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Online exhibition documents Mandela’s visit to Pietermaritzburg

By Newcastle University

In April 1990, Nelson Mandela visited Pietermaritzburg to see the devastation caused by the Seven Days War. Dr Aron Mazel, now a Reader in Heritage Studies at Newcastle University, photographed Mandela's visit and his images have been turned into an exhibition.

Nelson Mandela returned to the place he was captured 

The 2nd and 3rd April 1990 marked Mandela’s first visit to Pietermaritzburg in South Africa since he was released from prison in February that same year. Mandela was captured in the area on 5 August 1962 and spent 27 years in prison. 

Dr Aron Mazel, who worked as an archaeologist at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum at the time, took photographs of Mandela visiting the city to witness the destruction and suffering caused by the apartheid regime. 


Apartheid in the 1980s and early 1990s 

Pietermaritzburg and its surrounding areas experienced a lot of violence and death in the struggle against apartheid.  

In the 1980s, United Democratic Front (UDF) and Inkatha supporters fought, leading to families and communities being torn apart.  

On 25 March 1990, the conflict known as The Seven Days War broke out. Some UDF supporters stoned buses carrying Inkatha supporters home from a rally. In revenge, and with the help of the police, Inkatha attacked many areas aligned to the UDF.  

More than 100 people were killed in the conflict, many houses were destroyed, and an estimated 20,000 people fled their homes.  


Mandela’s visit was about giving people hope 

Nelson Mandela knew about the violence that was being experienced by people in Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas in their struggle against apartheid, but it was important for him to be on the ground to see it for himself. 

“His visit was momentous as he had been incarcerated for 27 years and we didn’t think he would ever be released. As much as possible I tried to document anti-apartheid struggle events in the Pietermaritzburg area, which was being underreported nationally and internationally. Nelson Mandela’s visit helped to draw attention to what was going on” 

Dr Aron Mazel 

Mandela travelled through areas affected by the violence and met people who had fled their homes sheltering in a church. He inspected the damage at another church, gave a press conference in the centre of Pietermaritzburg, and spoke at four rallies attended by thousands of people. 


A turning point in the South African history 

Dr Mazel’s photographs capture Nelson Mandela, newly released from prison, in a period of accelerated change and a period of renewed hope. 

“Personally, these images capture the wonderful sense of resilience that we as South Africans have become known for. It is always important to look back, reflect and learn from history by trying not to repeat the same mistakes, in order to safeguard our future.” 

Wesley Flanagan, Assistant Director of the Exhibitions Department' at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum


Dr Mazel's photographs can be viewed in the online exhibition Iso loMgungundlovu, curated by KwaZulu-Natal Museum. To find out more, contact Dr Aron Mazel, a Reader in Heritage Studies at Newcastle University.



Tags: Culture and Creative Arts, Research Excellence