Nelson Mandela Foundation

4 Nelson Mandela and Verne Harris copyright Nelson Mandela Foundation
(Image: Nelson Mandela Foundation)

MANDELA: LIFE [working title] will be an unprecedented and exclusively authorised five-part series founded on Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary life and the most dramatic period in South African history – 1984 to 1994, the ‘deadly decade’ during which thousands of people died in political violence. A decade that began with Nelson Mandela in prison, and ended with him being elected President of South Africa after the country’s first democratic election.

Directed by acclaimed South African film-maker Mandla Dube, the series is uniquely authorised by the Nelson Mandela Foundation with exclusive permission to archivally recreate Nelson Mandela’s voice from his personal archive and to feature previously unreleased material and unpublished letters written by him from prison.

The series has been in development for two years and will be ready for global release on Freedom Day, 27 April 2025, the 31st anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic election.

Thirty years after South Africa transitioned to democracy and a decade after Nelson Mandela’s death, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the official custodian of his personal archive, has granted its long-time creative partner and originating publisher of five books with and about Nelson Mandela, Blackwell & Ruth, exclusive permission to create the series. Blackwell & Ruth is partnering with renowned South African filmmaker Mandla Dube as director, and will co-produce with his production company Pambili Media.

MANDELA: LIFE will be Nelson Mandela’s own story "in his own words, narrated in his voice". Made in collaboration with the archive and research team Nelson Mandela personally authorised in 2004, Verne Harris, Razia Saleh and Sahm Venter, it aims to be the most rigorously researched, in-depth and personal long-form documentary portrait of his life ever produced.

The series will be founded on unique access to an unmatched trove of public and private material assembled by the Nelson Mandela Foundation archival team and Blackwell & Ruth over the past 20 years. It includes significant previously unpublished personal documents written by Mandela in prison, substantial unseen archival film footage, new and original footage, audio recordings, translations of transcripts of secret state recordings and many hundreds of pages of Mandela’s private writing and correspondence, which will provide the basis for a profoundly personal narration.

The series is being created in a world defined by violence, precarity, fundamentalism and division. It is a moment when Nelson Mandela’s story and the dramatic events that unfolded in South Africa from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s can serve to inspire a new generation to believe that even the deepest generational division and hatred can be overcome by representative and ethical leadership, and by people standing up bravely in the pursuit of justice and a more compassionate world.

World rights are available and represented by Dogwoof, who will launch the project at the Cannes Marche Du Film this month.


Verne Harris, Acting Chief Executive, Nelson Mandela Foundation

“This will be the first documentary or documentary series that we’ve authorised as the Nelson Mandela Foundation and in revisiting his life, especially with the challenge of surfacing his voice, we have authorised the use of archival materials to translate what he wrote to himself into a voice that people can hear.”

Verne Harris, Acting Chief Executive Officer, Nelson Mandela Foundation

“For the Nelson Mandela Foundation this series allows us to share with the world the contents of archival material that very often we’ve been searching for for many years, and have now found; content in Nelson Mandela’s own words which is very rich and offers new insights into his life.”

Verne Harris, Acting Chief Executive, Nelson Mandela Foundation

“One of the values that informs the project is respect for Nelson Mandela’s wish that we interrogate the archive and interrogate his life. Over many years I would go to him with materials that I’d found difficult and ask, “Are you sure you’re comfortable that this can be put in the public domain?” And he would say to me, and also to my colleagues, “Decisions on public access should be handled by professionals. It’s your task.” And the most important directive he gave us was: “You don’t need to protect me.”

Kneo Mokgopa, Narrative Development Manager, Nelson Mandela Foundation

“The significance of South Africans telling this story is hugely important. This is a precious story. It’s important. It’s needed. Especially in these times when we’re looking around the world and leadership is missing, here we have a story that tells us how incredible leadership can come from the most dire circumstances.”

Mandla Dube – Director, MANDELA: LIFE

“We are decolonising the lens and the framework of who Nelson Mandela was. There are certain nuances and subtleties that we haven’t seen in films made by international filmmakers about Nelson Mandela, because there’s a certain voice that comes with being a child of the soil.”

Verne Harris, Acting Chief Executive, Nelson Mandela Foundation

“If one looks at the books that have been published about Nelson Mandela, the movies, previous documentaries, whatever the intentions of the creators might have been, overwhelmingly they are a mediation of Black South African experience by white voices, very often not South African. And so, for us it’s really important that the work we’re about to embark on is driven by a Black South African and that the team is a South African team that has a particular ear for that voice that we’re trying to listen to and share with the world.”

Kneo Mokgopa, Narrative Development Manager, Nelson Mandela Foundation

“When I first heard the recreated voice, I was expecting a reenactment, maybe an actor, but to hear him speaking in the way his voice has been recreated gave me literal physical chills. Hearing him meant the world for me.”

The following people are available for interview

Verne Harris – Acting Chief Executive, Nelson Mandela Foundation
Mandla Dube – Director, MANDELA: LIFE
Razia Saleh – Head: Archive & Research, Nelson Mandela Foundation
Kneo Mokgopa – Narrative Development Manager, Nelson Mandela Foundation

For further details or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Tshepang Motsekuoa
Head: Communications & Marketing Nelson Mandela Foundation:
Phone: +27 63 609 6600

Download supplied images here


Authorised by the Nelson Mandela Foundation
A Blackwell & Ruth and Pambilimedia production
Director: Mandlakayise Walter Dube, Jr.
Producers: Mandlakayise Walter Dube, Jr., Geoff Blackwell, Ruth Hobday Editors: Diliza Moabi, Elizabeth Blackwell
Principal Researcher: Sahm Venter
Production Supervisor: Sydney Masina
Acting Chief Executive, Nelson Mandela Foundation: Verne Harris
Head of Archive & Research for the Nelson Mandela Foundation: Razia Saleh Manager Narrative Development, Nelson Mandela Foundation: Kneo Mokgopa

MANDELA: LIFE is represented worldwide by Dogwoof Contact: Cleo Veger, Head Of Sales


Mandlakayise Walter Dube, Jr – Director

Born in Mabopane, South Africa, Mandlakayise Walter Dube, Jr is the director of the Heart of the Hunter, the adaptation of Deon Meyer’s novel and the first film in a recently announced multi-project deal with Netflix. The film made history when it debuted at #1 globally in March 2024 and remained in the top ten for several weeks on the Netflix platform. Dube also directed the hit Netflix film Silverton Siege, an action thriller inspired by the real -ife incident that sparked the global ‘Free Mandela’ movement, and the feature film Kalushi, also on Netflix.

Dube’s diverse body of work includes documentaries, short films, theatre, feature films and episodic series. He directed numerous episodes of the hit Netflix series Jiva! and both seasons of the documentary series Echoes in the Valley of the Mapungbwe and is about to direct an episode of the upcoming series King Shaka and two episodes of The Great War for Radical Media/History Channel.

Dube has just announced a financial investment from the Industrial Corporation of South Africa (IDC) for a six-picture slate with Dube’s production company, Pambilimedia.

Dube obtained a Master of Fine Arts in cinematography from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. His work in feature films as camera operator and camera assistant include The Italian Job, Men in Black II, Money Monster, Drop Squad, Umthunzi we Ntaba, Badger, Sunset Tuxedo, As I Am and A Single Rose, and he was cinematographer on the multi-award- winning docudrama, Sobukwe: A Great Soul. He is a member of the DGA.

Dube is represented by Alta Global Media Contact:

Verne Harris – Acting Chief Executive, Nelson Mandela Foundation

Verne Harris is Acting Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. He was Mandela’s archivist from 2004 to 2013, directed the Foundation’s archives programme for 15 years and the dialogue and advocacy programme for five years. He is an adjunct professor at Nelson Mandela University, served in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and is a former Deputy Director of the National Archives. He has authored or co-authored six books, the most recent one being Ghosts of Archive (2021). He is the recipient of honorary doctorates from the University of Cordoba, Argentina (2014) and the University of Pretoria, South Africa (2023) and held the Follet Chair at Dominican University, Chicago (2018–19). He has received archival publication awards from Australia, Canada and South Africa, and both his novels were short-listed for South Africa’s M-Net Book Prize. He was a selection panel member for Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity (2017–22) and has served on the boards of Archival Science, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the Freedom of Expression Institute and the South African History Archive.

Razia Saleh – Head: Archive & Research, Nelson Mandela Foundation

Razia Saleh heads the Archive and Research department at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Before this she was the archivist at the African National Congress (ANC) overseeing the arrangement and description of ANC archives produced in exile. Razia has long worked in archives since she helped establish the South African History Archive (SAHA) to archive the material produced by anti-apartheid organisations active within South Africa in the 1980s. She has a Master’s degree in archival studies from the University of London and is a board member of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, established by the struggle stalwart. Kathrada was sentenced to life imprisonment during the Rivonia trial together with Nelson Mandela and others.

Kneo Mokgopa – Narrative Development Manager, Nelson Mandela Foundation

Kneo Mokgopa (they/he), LLB. is the Narrative Development Manager at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Kneo holds a law degree from the University of Cape Town and is a Thought Fellow at the Centre for Creative & Critical Thought at the University of Stellenbosch. Kneo serves on Section 11 Committee on the National Question and Anti- Racism, hosted by the South African Human Rights Commission, and they are a widely published writer with a regular column in the Daily Maverick, titled “Unthere” where they explore the nature of the boundaries between human and object in post-Apartheid South Africa.

Geoff Blackwell – Series Creator & Producer

Geoff Blackwell is an award-winning publisher, author, photographer and filmmaker. He was an originating publisher for Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu and has conceived and developed numerous best-selling books, international exhibitions, and film projects principally focused on humanity, equality and the environment. His most notable personal projects include M.I.L.K.: Moments of Intimacy, Laughter and Kinship; 200 Women: Who Will Change the Way You See the World; mewe: Love, Humanity and Us; Human Nature: Planet Earth In Our Time; and I Know This to Be True, a series made in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Foundation focussed on leaders that became the basis for the Netflix documentary series Live to Lead that he also created and directed.

Ruth Hobday – Producer

Ruth Hobday has been the principal producer for Blackwell & Ruth projects for over two decades. She has originated and edited a number of award-winning books, five of them by the late Nelson Mandela including New York Times bestseller Conversations with Myself, and the Great Cookbook series which was published in five editions and has generated over $1 million for food security initiatives, and she co-authored 200 Women: Who Will Change the Way You See the World and Human Nature: Planet Earth In Our Time. She has produced numerous international exhibitions and events, and was producer for the Netflix documentary series Live to Lead presented by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and made in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

About Blackwell & Ruth

Founded by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, Blackwell & Ruth has worked with the Nelson Mandela Foundation for two decades and was the originating publisher of five books by and about Nelson Mandela. Collectively these titles have sold over 3 million copies in 40 languages. Blackwell & Ruth has won numerous international awards for its publishing work and is also a creator of international film and exhibition projects.

About Phambili Media

Pambili Media as a creative agency of stories has conceptualized and embarked upon a conglomeration of narratives. The vision is to nourish the youth of South Africa’s indigenous background and celebrate the victories the country has accomplished. The entities in partnership have identified a gap in the market; namely, the need for African entertainment-based heritage content, a practice that is scarcely interrogated and applied in South Africa. The company’s interests are mainly in advancing Africa’s Heritage and Cultural History through media.

About Dogwoolf

Dogwoof is a London-based documentary film company integrating production, sales, and theatrical distribution. Dogwoof has so far released 34 Oscar-nominated documentaries, with six wins and an additional five BAFTA winners; notable titles include 2024 Oscar- winning and BAFTA-winning 20 Days In Mariupol, 2023 Oscar-winning and BAFTA-
winning Navalny, Oscar-winning and BAFTA-winning Free Solo, BAFTA-nominated Apollo 11, Oscar and BAFTA-nominated Fire of Love and All That Breathes, BAFTA-winning The Act of Killing, and Blackfish.