All because the legacy of South Africa‘s first black president, as he approaches his 87th birthday on Monday, is too big for a conventional museum.
“What we are seeking to do, and the process we have embarked upon, is to try and get to grips with what Nelson Mandela’s legacy is to all of us as South Africans, to all of us as Africans and indeed to the world,” Cyril Ramaphosa, a foundation trustee, said on Thursday.
Ramaphosa, who presided over the drafting of a post-apartheid constitution, joined others who fought apartheid with Mandela at the Johannesburg-based foundation on Thursday to launch a series of activities marking his birthday.
They include a book of photographs on Mandela’s 27 years in jail and a now traditional children’s party.
An exhibition at the foundation features some of the thousands of gifts and awards Mandela receives every year.
There’s a painting by actor Robert de Niro’s father, a pair of bright green size 13 sneakers from South African tennis champion Amanda Coetzer, a bust of Mandela made by a man serving 25 years for armed robbery and an ostrich foot of undetermined origin.
Sitting among them is the Nobel Peace Prize Mandela shared with South Africa‘s last apartheid president, F W De Klerk.
“Unless we find imaginative ways of addressing this reality, future generations are in danger of losing their histories“
Leaning heavily on Ramaphosa’s arm, a frail-looking Mandela perused the collection on Thursday. “I am an old man,” he said with a laugh. “That is why I have so many things.”
Before the end of the year the memory project plans to set up a website where users ranging from academics to school children can view the many other Mandela artefacts, photographs, newsreels and documents housed in collections around the world.
A small museum, featuring rotating exhibitions, will eventually be housed within the Constitutional Court complex in Johannesburg.
Through a series of comic books, which will be distributed free at schools and in newspapers, the foundation hopes to pass on to a new generation of South Africans the story of Mandela’s life and values.
“One of the sad realities today is that very few people, especially young people, read books,” Mandela said.
“Unless we find imaginative ways of addressing this reality, future generations are in danger of losing their histories.”
Mandela’s presidency was marked by his commitment to reconciling a nation in transition.
On 23 July, the national rugby team plays Australia in the stadium where Mandela made history a decade ago by striding onto the field wearing the green and yellow team jersey to celebrate its victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
With that one gesture, Mandela reassured millions of the sport’s largely white fans that they too had a place in post-apartheid South Africa.
The game will be played in Mandela’s honour and the whole stadium will sing “Happy Birthday” for him, said South African Rugby President Brian Van Rooyen.
Even after Mandela retired from political life in 1999, he remained a champion of the sick, the poor and underprivileged.
He set up a foundation dedicated to improving the lives of children and another to raise awareness of the Aids pandemic.
Mandela is still a champion of the
To continue the debate around major social issues, the Mandela Foundation hosts an annual lecture series.
This year’s will be delivered on 19 July by Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai.
Also attending the event will be former US President Bill Clinton and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who delivered previous lectures.
Despite the focus on him, the aging Mandela hoped the rest of South Africa would join him in celebrating their country’s achievements.
“Our country represents a powerful symbol of reconciliation and hope in the world, and the gifts and awards you see in the exhibition are an acknowledgment of that” he said. “Today, we are sharing the honour with all South Africans.”