Madiba centenary: Icon’s records at your fingertips

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Not many people are able to set foot in the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg, which houses the archives of the late former president and icon of South Africa’s struggle for liberation, Nelson Mandela.

If missing out on some of the interesting pieces of information and records about Mandela’s political life worries you, then worry no more.

A historic partnership between the Nelson Mandela Foundation and one of the world’s most popular social networking sites, Facebook, will make these records available at your fingertips.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, in partnership with Facebook, are marking the centenary celebrations of the world’s most loved statesman by availing to millions of people around the globe, archive material that chronicles the journey of the man affectionately known as Madiba.

After a successful partnership with Facebook on the live streaming of the 14th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture delivered by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on 17 July 2016, the penny dropped on the huge potential of the social platform.

“When Bill Gates delivered the lecture, we got Facebook to be our partner and that was the lecture that ended up being one of the biggest due to the use of that platform.

“Following that, we thought maybe we should explore other possibilities with Facebook.  This year, they came in and we are doing the project which is to archive Madiba’s records and preserve them,” says Nelson Mandela CEO Sello Hatang.

The collaboration comes as the foundation, government and people the world over celebrate 2018 as the Nelson Mandela Centenary.

Mandela, who died on 5 December 2013, would have turned 100 years-old on the 18th of July 2018, had he lived.

The centenary celebrations will run from July 2018 until July 2019.

Under the theme, “Be the Legacy”, South Africans and the world are called to find the Madiba within themselves and work towards upholding the principles which the former statesman lived by which are non-racialism, equality and integrity amongst others.

“For us, the message for the centenary is threefold - with the first being encouraging people to identify oneself as not only believing in Madiba’s way of governance but actually try and be the legacy. The second part of the message is for us to find the Madiba in ourselves and finally to build a values based society,” says Hatang.

What is in those archives?

As it stands, over eight million Facebook users follow the Foundation’s account. It is on this account where they have access to Madiba’s quotes from speeches he delivered over the years and accounts of pivotal moments of his life.

According to Hatang, the social media site will create a portal where Facebook users who follow the Foundation’s account will be able to view records, documents, paintings, awards and donated items.

The items document the life of the man born in Mvezo, Eastern Cape, who became South Africa’s first democratically elected President.

It will be on this portal where a user will be able to view the archives on their Facebook feed.

The archives have something for everyone. The rugby jersey former Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar wore on the day South Africa won the 1995 Rugby World Cup which he later donated to the Foundation.

That World Cup was a watershed moment in South African history that Madiba used to bridge the gap between the black and white people as he walked into Ellis Park stadium shortly after assuming his Presidency after the fall of apartheid.

The Nobel Peace Prize, awarded jointly to Mandela with Former President Frederik Willem De Klerk in 1993 for the peaceful transition into democracy, is also kept in the strong room that houses the archives.

Bookworms will get a snippet of the manuscripts of Madiba’s memoir, Long Walk to Freedom and what would have been its sequel Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years, which was completed with the help of Mandla Langa.

The archive project will be funded by Facebook and spans the course of three years.

With the backing of Facebook, the Foundation which has a total of 12 million followers on its social media platforms collectively, envisions to increase its online following.

“Facebook is funding the preservation of Madiba’s archive which includes building a portal that we will host. They will help us advance our social media platforms and help train our people to assist us increase our footfall on Facebook,” says Hatang. 

Live Stream the Annual Nelson Mandela Foundation Lecture

By increasing its social media presence, Hatang hopes the Foundation will achieve its goal to spark conversation.

To do this, the Foundation will once again draw on its partnership with Facebook to deliver the 16th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture this year via live stream.

The Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture series is an important event on the Foundation’s calendar as it encourages not just thought leaders, but ordinary people to have debates on difficult issues in order to find solutions.

Previous speakers of the lecture series include Archbishop Desmond Tutu; former president Thabo Mbeki; Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai; former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and former US president Bill Clinton.

In 2018, the Foundation aims to highlight eradication of poverty and inequality, the dismantling of structural racism and the broadening of freedom in their debates.

Facebook proved to be an easy choice for partner, as it does not only carry the huge audience reach but also has common ideals of connecting and building communities.

“Facebook is a platform for building communities connecting people across the globe and building communities. If we are to talk about building a values based society we hope that it will help in that venture too,” Hatang said.

Books about Madiba

Apart from the Facebook venture, a number of centenary celebrations are lined up for the year ahead, each demonstrating Madiba’s passions.

“One of the projects that we will be doing is releasing a book of people who worked for and with Madiba. What we hope to achieve out of that, is that these people bring forward not just the icon but someone who cared as a father and grandfather to their children.

“Someone who cared about the education of their children and how he not only invested his time but also invested himself,” says Hatang.

The book, which will have anecdotes from those who shared in Madiba’s journey is set to be released in May this year.

“In there, you will hear about the Madiba that is not known out there. We knew Madiba as someone who was very humourous and we hoping that will also come forth in the book.”

An international book titled “Children’s Letters for Mandela” is also on the cards to commemorate Madiba’s love for children.

“We will have letters from children in Japan, Australia, China but predominantly from South African children telling Madiba about their world without him. Of course, most have never met or seen Madiba, so it will be stories about what they have been told about Madiba,” says Hatang.

Through these books, the Foundation hopes to present a fresh angle to Madiba from the well-known facets of him as a political activist, prisoner 46664 at Robben Island and President but rather as an ordinary human being who led an extraordinary life.

Exhibitions and documentaries

 A number of exhibitions will also take place across the globe that will honour the global icon.

 “In terms of the exhibition, there will be three kinds of exhibitions. There will be an international one that will run for five years. It will start in Australia then head to New Zealand, the UK, Europe and then make its way back home on the fifth year, it will have artefacts.”

The second exhibition, which aims to bring Madiba closer to the people is that of a design of his hand that we will be placed in public parks in collaboration with municipalities.

Third amongst the exhibitions will be the Unthreading Mandela exhibition, which can be seen at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Houghton, Johannesburg.

The exhibition’s looks at two elements. The first being Mandela, the stylish man who had a daring fashion sense and came to be known for his colourful and unorthodox shirts later known as the Madiba shirt. It also speaks to uncovering his legacy and finding ways to build on the legacy he started.

Reflecting on his interactions with Madiba, Hatang said he admired the humility of the legend.

“You know Madiba could make you feel like you could be Madiba. I like how he would make people so comfortable around him and he would say, I am so honoured to be in your presence and meanwhile you are actually thinking that you are the one who is honoured.”

As the Foundation gets the ball rolling on the centenary celebrations, Hatang calls on South Africans to give their time to causes that evoke change in society.

He makes reference to knitting projects through the Blankets for Mandela initiative which demonstrate that anyone can lend a hand.

“We run a knitting project with the Department of Correctional Services. In that project prisoners are knitting and knitting to try and regain trust of society, by giving something back in the form of these blankets. I think if it can be done by even those who have wronged society and are behind bars surely those who have hands and have the presence of mind to help others can do the same,” says Hatang. –



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