The Rise and Fall of Apartheid


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Photo exhibit tells the tale of oppression and imprisonment leading to election of Nelson Mandella as president.

The International Center of Photography (1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street, New York City) is exhibiting the "Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life" through Jan. 6.  The exhibit offers an overview of the pictorial response to apartheid. Through its images, this exhibition explores the significance of the 50-year civil rights struggle, from how apartheid defined and marked South Africa’s identity from 1948 to 1994, to the rise of Nelson Mandela, and finally its lasting impact on society.

Curated by Okwui Enwezor with Rory Bester and based on more than six years of research, the exhibition examines the aesthetic power of the documentary form – from the photo essay to reportage, social documentary to photojournalism and art – in recording, analyzing, articulating, and confronting the legacy of apartheid and its effect on everyday life in South Africa.

Apartheid, the compound Dutch word meaning separate (apart) and neighborhood (heid), was the political platform of Afrikaner nationalism before and after World War II. It created a political system designed specifically to promote racial segregation and enshrine white domination. In 1948, after the surprise victory of the Afrikaner National Party, apartheid was introduced as official state policy and organized across a widespread series of legislative programs.

Right-wing groups gather in Pretoria’s Church Square to voice their anger at the F. W. de Klerk government’s attempts to transform the country, 1990, Greame Williams, © Greame Williams.

Over time, the system of apartheid grew increasingly ruthless and violent towards Africans and other non-white communities. It not only transformed the modern political meaning of citizenship, it invented a wholly new society in both fact and law. The result was a reorganization of civic, economic, and political structures that penetrated even the most mundane aspects of social existence – from housing, public amenities and transportation, to education, tourism, religion and businesses. Apartheid transformed institutions, maintaining them for the sole purpose of denying and depriving Africans, Coloureds, and Asians of their basic civil rights.

A central premise of this exhibition is that South African photography, as we know it today, was essentially invented in 1948. The exhibition argues that the rise of the Afrikaner National Party to political power and its introduction of apartheid as the legal foundation of governance changed the pictorial perception of the country from a purely colonial space based on racial segregation to a highly contested space based on the ideals of equality, democracy, and civil rights. Photography was almost instantaneously alert to this change and in turn transformed its own visual language from a purely anthropological tool to a social instrument. Because of this, no one else photographed South Africa and the struggle against apartheid better, more critically and incisively, with deep pictorial complexity, and penetrating insight than South African photographers. It is the goal if this exhibition to explore and pay tribute to their exceptional photographic achievement.

Encompassing the entire museum, including the exterior windows at the International Center of Photography, this exhibition includes the work of nearly 70 photographers, artists and filmmakers. Complex, vivid, evocative and dramatic, Rise and Fall of Apartheid covers more than 60 years of powerful photographic and visual production that form part of the historical record of modern South African identity. Accompanied by more than 500 photographs, artworks, films, videos, documents, posters and periodicals, the exhibition brings together a rich tapestry of material, many of which have been rarely shown together, to examine and document one of the most absorbing historical eras of the 20th century.

From the work of members Drum Magazine in the 1950s to the Afrapix Collective in the 1980s to the reportage of the so-called Bang Bang Club, included in the exhibition are the exceptional works of pioneering South African photographers including Leon Levson, Eli Weinberg, David Goldblatt, Peter Magubane, Alf Khumalo, Jürgen Schadeberg, Sam Nzima, Ernest Cole, George Hallet, Omar Badsha, Gideon Mendel, Paul Weinberg, Kevin Carter, Joao Silva, and Greg Marinovich, and the responses of contemporary artists such as Adrian Piper, Sue Williamson, Jo Ractliffe, Jane Alexander, Santu Mofokeng, Guy Tillim, Hans Haacke, and William Kentridge. In addition, the exhibition will feature the works of a new generation of South African photographers such as Sabelo Mlangeni and Thabiso Sekgale, who explore the impact of apartheid as it continues to resonate today.

View a slideshow with some images from the exhibition at The New York Times.

"Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life" is made possible with support from Mark McCain and Caro Macdonald/Eye and I, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the ICP Exhibitions Committee, National Endowment for the Arts, Joseph and Joan Cullman Foundation for the Arts, Deborah Jerome and Peter Guggenheimer, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation in honor of 30 years of committed ICP service by Willis E. Hartshorn.

Crowd near the Drill Hall on the opening day of the Treason Trial, Johannesburg, December 19, 1956, Eli Weinberg, Times Media Collection, Museum Africa, Johannesburg.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela; (b. 1918), the South African politician who served as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, was  the first ever to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Before being elected president, Mandela was a militant anti-apartheid activist, and the leader and co-founder of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC).

In 1962 he was arrested and convicted of sabotage and other charges, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela went on to serve 27 years in prison, spending many of these years on Robben Island. Following his release from prison on 11 February 1990, Mandela led his party in the negotiations that led to the establishment of democracy in 1994. As president, he frequently gave priority to reconciliation, while introducing policies aimed at combating poverty and inequality in South Africa.

Mandela has received more than 250 awards over four decades, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

While in jail, his reputation grew and he became widely known as the most significant black leader in South Africa.  On the island, he and others performed hard labor in a lime quarry. Prison conditions were very basic. Prisoners were segregated by race, with black prisoners receiving the fewest rations. Political prisoners were kept separate from ordinary criminals and received fewer privileges. Mandela describes how, as a D-group prisoner (the lowest classification) he was allowed one visitor and one letter every six months.  Letters, when they came, were often delayed for long periods and made unreadable by the prison censors.

In his 1981 memoir, Inside BOSS  secret agent Gordon Winter describes his involvement in a plot to rescue Mandela from prison in 1969: This plot was infiltrated by Winter on behalf of South African intelligence, who wanted Mandela to escape so they could shoot him during recapture. The plot was foiled by Britain's Secret Intelligence Service.

In February 1985 President P.W. Botha offered Mandela his freedom on condition that he 'unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon'. Coetsee and other ministers had advised Botha against this, saying that Mandela would never commit his organization to giving up the armed struggle in exchange for personal freedom. Mandela indeed spurned the offer, releasing a statement saying "What freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts."

The first meeting between Mandela and the National Party government came in November 1985 when Kobie Coetsee met Mandela in Volks Hospital in Cape Town where Mandela was recovering from prostate surgery. Over the next four years, a series of tentative meetings took place, laying the groundwork for further contact and future negotiations, but little real progress was made.

In 1988 Mandela was moved to Victor Verster Prison and would remain there until his release. Various restrictions were lifted.

Frederik_ eKlerk with Nelson Mandela World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 1992Throughout Mandela's imprisonment, local and international pressure mounted on the South African government to release him, under the resounding slogan Free Nelson Mandela! In 1989, South Africa reached a crossroads when Botha suffered a stroke and was replaced as president by Frederik Willem de Klerk (pictured at left with Mandela in 1992). De Klerk announced Mandela's release in February 1990. The event was broadcast live all over the world.

On the day of his release, Mandela made a speech to the nation. He declared his commitment to peace and reconciliation with the country's white minority, but made it clear that the ANC's armed struggle was not yet over when he said "our resort to the armed struggle in 1960 with the formation of the military wing of the ANC (Umkhonto we Sizwe) was a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid. The factors which necessitated the armed struggle still exist today. We have no option but to continue. We express the hope that a climate conducive to a negotiated settlement would be created soon, so that there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle."

He also said his main focus was to bring peace to the black majority and give them the right to vote in both national and local elections.

South Africa's first multi-racial elections in which full enfranchisement was granted were held on 27 April 1994. The ANC won 62% of the votes in the election, and Mandela, as leader of the ANC, was inaugurated on 10 May 1994 as the country's first black President, with the National Party's de Klerk as his first deputy and Thabo Mbeki as the second in the Government of National Unity. As President from May 1994 until June 1999, Mandela presided over the transition from minority rule and apartheid, winning international respect for his advocacy of national and international reconciliation. Mandela encouraged black South Africans to get behind the previously hated Springboks (the South African national rugby team) as South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup.  After the Springboks won an epic final over New Zealand, Mandela presented the trophy to captain Francois Pienaar, an Afrikaner, wearing a Springbok shirt with Pienaar's own number 6 on the back. This was widely seen as a major step in the reconciliation of white and black South Africans.

During the course of his presidency, a wide range of progressive social reforms were enacted by Mandela's government, aimed at reducing long entrenched social and economic inequalities in South Africa.

Free health care was introduced in 1994 for all children under the age of six together with pregnant and breastfeeding women making use of public sector health facilities (a provision extended to all those using primary level public sector health care services in 1996). The Reconstruction and Development Programme was lauched, which invested in essential social services such as housing and health care. Increases in welfare spending were carried out, with public spending on welfare and social grants increased by 13% in 1996/97, 13% in 1997/98, and 7% in 1998/99. The government also introduced parity in grants for communities, including disability grants, child maintenance grants, and old-age pensions, which had previously been set at different levels for South Africa’s different racial groups.

Visit your local library for these resources:

Books about photographers in the exhibition

Portrait of a people : a personal photographic record of the South African liberation struggle
by Eli Weinberg, (1981).

Fifty-one years, David Goldblatt

by David Goldblatt, J M Coetzee, Museu d'Art Contemporani, Barcelona, Spain; AXA Gallery, et al, (2001).

Vanishing cultures of South Africa : changing customs in a changing world
by Peter Magubane, (1998).

Jurgen Schadeberg
Jurgen Schadeberg; Ralf-Peter Seippel, (2008).

Ernest Cole : photographer
by Ernest Cole; Gunilla Knape; Struan Robertson; Ivor Powell, (2010).

Amulets & dreams : war, youth & change in Africa
by Omar Badsha, Guy Tillim, Julia Maxted, South African History Online; Institute for Security Studies South Africa, (2002).
Series: South African History Online photographic series, no. 2.

The Bang-Bang Club : snapshots from a hidden war
by Greg Marinovich; Joa~o Silva, (2000).

The Bang Bang Club (DVD)
by Ryan Phillippe, Malin Akerman, Taylor Kitsch, Daniel Iron, Lance Samuels, all authors, (2011).
As apartheid comes to a violent end in South Africa, four fearless photographers, bonded by their friendship and a sense of purpose, risk their lives to capture the bloody struggle and expose the truth.

Books about Mandela
Nelson Mandela: A Life in Photographs
David Elliot Cohen, (2010).
... beautiful, oversize photo biography, which includes, published in full, the South African leader’s six great historic speeches, with a detailed overview of the apartheid struggle as well as an essay on Mandela’s personal role in the country’s history. Highly readable, up-to-date, and relatively inexpensive, the volume features more than 100 beautifully reproduced photos, many of them in color, on most of the spacious double-page spreads.(1994)— Excerpt of review by Hazel Rochman first published February 1, 2010 (Booklist).

Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years
David James Smith, (2010).
Neither saint nor icon, South Africa’s world-famous leader is still very much a hero in this close-up dramatic biography, both personal and political, about his activist years in the underground before he was sentenced to life in prison. Readers will want to read this one not only because British journalist Smith integrates all the histories and biographies out there but also because he includes his own current interviews with many witnesses not much heard before, including those who worked with Mandela in the lawyer’s offices in Johannesburg and those who hid him when he went underground as the Black Pimpernel and played the “houseboy” on a big fancy estate. —Excerpt of review by Hazel Rochman first published October 15, 2010 (Booklist).

Mandela: The Authorized Portrait

Mac Maharaj and Ahmed Kathrada,editors (2006).
With beautifully reproduced photographs on every double-page spread, this huge, very handsome biography is both for those who know Mandela only as a distant icon and for those familiar with his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (1994), and with the history of South Africa’s struggle for democracy. More than 60 world figures (including Clinton, Annan, and Bono) and antiapartheid activists (including Tutu and Kathrada) pay tribute and remember the great freedom fighter. —Excerpt of review by Hazel Rochman first published October 15, 2006 (Booklist).

Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography
Nelson Mandela, (1996).
Adapted from the best-selling memoir, Long Walk to Freedom (1994), this handsomely designed, large-size volume with 200 photographs is sure to become most readers’ first choice for reading about Mandela. The text has been cut, but not that much; there’s still an extraordinary amount of detail about his personal life and the history and politics of the antiapartheid struggle, about his years underground, his 27 years in prison, and his triumphant election as president of South Africa’s first democracy. —Excerpt of review by Hazel Rochman first published November 15, 1996 (Booklist).



1. Article illustration:
Nelson Mandela with Winnie Mandela as he is released from the Victor Vester Prison, 1990, by Greame Williams, Courtesy the artist. © Greame Williams.

2. Right-wing groups gather in Pretoria’s Church Square to voice their anger at the F. W. de Klerk government’s attempts to transform the country, 1990, Greame Williams, Courtesy the artist. © Greame Williams.

3. Crowd near the Drill Hall on the opening day of the Treason Trial, Johannesburg, December 19, 1956, Eli Weinberg, Times Media Collection, Museum Africa, Johannesburg.

4. Frederik de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shake hands in January 1992, (Not in exhibition).


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