Mandela archive now live on the web

28 March 2012

The new Nelson Mandela Digital Archive is now live on the web, giving the global public – along with historians, educationalists, researchers and activists from around the world – free access to extensive information about the life and legacy of this extraordinary African statesman.

In 2011, internet giant Google gave a US$1.25-million [R8.6million] grant to the Johannesburg-based Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory (NMCM) to help preserve and digitise thousands of archival documents, photographs and videos about Mandela.

On Tuesday, the resulting online multimedia archive – archive.nelsonmandela.org – become a reality.

Rare images, never-seen drafts

According to the NMCM, the archive includes Mandela’s correspondence with family, comrades and friends, diaries written during his 27 years of imprisonment, and notes he made while leading the negotiations that ended apartheid in South Africa.

The archive will also include the earliest-known photograph of Mandela, rare images of his cell on Robben Island in the 1970s, and never-seen drafts of Mandela’s manuscripts for the sequel to his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

“This digital initiative will make it possible for us to reach the full spectrum of our stakeholders, from the global elite to systemically disadvantaged South Africans,” the centre’s Verne Harris said at the launch of the archive in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

“Visitors can search and browse the archives to explore different parts of Mr Mandela’s life and work in depth: Early Life, Prison Years, Presidential Years, Retirement, Books for Mandela, Young People, and My Moments with a Legend.”

Interactive online experience

Also speaking at the launch, Steve Crossan, director of the Google Cultural Institute, said the project “shows how the internet can help preserve historical heritage and make it available to the world.

“We’ve worked closely with the NMCM to create an interactive online experience with powerful search and browsing tools, so that users can explore Mr Mandela’s inspiring life story.”

Luke Mckend, country manager for Google South Africa, said the archive currently included over 1 900 unique images, documents and videos, and would grow over time.

“South Africans from all walks of life can now engage with important parts of our country’s history,” Mckend said. “For example, reading handwritten pages of a letter smuggled from Robben Island in 1977, or seeing warrant documents that sent Mr Mandela to jail, first for five years and then for life.”

SAinfo reporter