Nelson Mandela Opus set to amaze

4 December 2013

Former South African president Nelson Mandela is to be honoured with an official Opus, the definitive publication chronicling the life and times of the anti-apartheid icon, it was announced in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Half a square metre in size and weighing in at 37 kilograms, The Nelson Mandela Opus will tell Mandela’s story in a unique and definitive way, featuring the finest writers along with stunning images displayed on an unprecedented scale.

The Mandela Opus will pay tribute to Madiba in the year of his 95th birthday, with the publication set to coincide with South Africa’s 20 years of democracy in 2014.

Only 10 000 copies will be available worldwide, while derivatives of the Opus will be available to make the ultimate work produced on Mandela’s life accessible to millions around the world.

“We are excited about the Mandela Opus, which is another way of taking Tata’s legacy to people all over the world,” Mandela’s grandson, Ndaba Mandela, said at the announcement of the project at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg on Tuesday. “There can never be enough ways of telling his story.”

‘Unique not only in size’

The Opus collection is a series of the largest works ever produced on selected iconic stories, organisations and personalities, including Ferrari, Manchester United, Michael Jackson, Sachin Tendulkar and the Springboks.

Opus, Matchworld and Africa Rising, in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and the House of Mandela, will publish the The Nelson Mandela Opus, with award-winning journalist Ryland Fisher, a former Cape Times editor and author of the book Race, tasked with editing the epic publication.

There exists an almost inexhaustible amount of subjects on Mandela, with hundreds of books written about him. The challenge, as Fisher realised as soon as he began to dig deeper into the legend that is Madiba, is what to leave out.

“This is the biggest tribute that you can ever think of to pay to such a great South African, and part of the challenge we had was to ensure that the unique thing about the book not only be its size, but the unique elements in the book,” says Fisher.

Fisher has gone to great lengths to find the untold stories of people’s encounters with the great man. “For instance, the chapter on the day of Madiba’s release is unique because we spoke to various people involved in different parts of his release,” Fisher says.

“We also spoke to someone who was in the house with Madiba before he came out, we spoke to the person who drove his car, we even spoke to another guy who walked around on the Grand Parade with a gun hidden under his coat, looking for potential people who might want to take Madiba out.”

Accounts of family, friends, international leaders

The Opus will be filled with writings by a historian on Mandela’s history, looking at the economic, political and social situation in the world at each of the key points in Mandela’s life.

While the book will explore his life in great detail, it will also include the emotional accounts of friends, family, comrades, and international leaders and personalities.

“We’ve got this fantastic story about his family and how part of the family felt they were neglected because all the publicity and attention was on only one part of the family,” says Fisher.

“When we did the interviews with family members, I really thought we would get a sanitised version of history, and people would not be open and honest with us. What we’ve got was actually amazing – we got the family members speaking, ‘warts and all’, really.”

Celebrated South African photojournalist Benny Gool, who chronicled the life of Madiba, is the official photographer for the Opus and had to wade through thousands of images for the book.

“We ended up with close to 20 000 images … and we are moving to a point where we will end up with a minimum of 2 000 images, and from there we will draw on whatever will end up in the book,” says Gool, adding: “What is nice about this book is that you can display images like I’ve never seen in a book.”

The foreword to The Nelson Mandela Opus will be written by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. It will also feature special contributions by people such as Bill Gates, Naomi Campbell and Sir Richard Branson.

It will include a personal account by South African President Jacob Zuma on his recollections of Madiba, while former US president Bill Clinton and Madiba’s fellow Nobel Peace laureate and former SA president FW de Klerk will also add their voices to the Opus.

Poet Zolani Mkiva, who has been Mandela’s traditional praise singer for 13 years, has been tasked with ensuring historical accuracies in the book, particularly around traditions and Madiba’s heritage.

“In a book like this that will be going global, what we want to do is mainstream the African heritage which he comes from,” says Mkiva. “You will realise that in terms of his early influences on leadership, his love for the community started from his grassroots, and we didn’t want to leave that out.”

SAinfo reporter and Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory