Nelson Mandela Foundation

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Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory CEO Achmat Dangor speaks to the press at the launch event

The launch today of the Nelson Mandela digital archive at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory celebrates global access to photos, videos, letters and personal documents about his life and times.

The launch date was chosen as it is also the sixtieth anniversary of the day Nelson Mandela was admitted as an attorney. He went on to found, with Oliver Tambo, South Africa’s first black law firm, Mandela and Tambo in Johannesburg.

Thanks to a partnership between the Centre of Memory and the Google Cultural Institute, Nelson Mandela’s archive dating from 1929 is now accessible in digital format to anyone, anywhere in the world. 

The project is a living archive that will continue to expand as people across the globe contribute to the project and grow the legend of Mr Mandela. In his welcome address Achmat Dangor, Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation recalled how Mr Mandela inaugurated the Centre of Memory in 2004 as the institution’s core work.

Mr Mandela’s injunction was that the Centre of Memory “must not become a mausoleum,” rather that it should strive to grow beyond a memory bank attributed to one person. The Centre has also since become a platform for dialogue around critical social issues.

“At the heart of our strategy for Memory is to make the unique archives of the life and times of Mr Mandela available to the rest of the world,” said Dangor. 

Verne Harris, Head of Memory Programming at the Centre of Memory, explained that the partnership with Google was about preserving and promoting Nelson Mandela’s legacy.

“The Centre of Memory owns the content and individual contributors remain the owners of their copyright,” he said. “Google does not own the material. The project is about public access and the preservation of heritage.” In addition, the Centre selects what content is presented on the website, and how.

“But most importantly, the digital archive gives everyone, everywhere free access to documents that depict the life and times of Madiba.”

“How will we impart Madiba’s legacy to the emerging democrats?”

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Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor at the launch

South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor spoke about Mr Mandela’s enduring characteristics and how they have captured the imagination of the world.

“During his imprisonment he remained committed to the liberation of South Africa, and his release from prison began the most remarkable political transition to a fully fledged democracy,” she said. “Mandela means inspiration.”

How will we impart Mr Mandela’s legacy lessons to emerging democrats, she asked. “It is a pioneering step to digitize his own records and to post them online … The digital world offers a bridge to access information.”

Pandor referred to the internet as the “great leveller” – which offers easy access to knowledge and information.

The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory has led the way by digitising records for online use, and has contributed to the development of an African knowledge economy, an enterprise that enables access to the teachings of one of Africa’s greatest leaders.


Use the archives to promote dialogue and social justice

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Minister of Arts and Culture Paul Mashatile at the launch

Paul Mashatile, South Africa’s Minister of Arts and Culture, emphasised the importance of preserving the nation’s cultural and liberation heritage.

“We must continue to celebrate and draw lessons from the lives of those who shaped our history and contributed to the democratic freedom we enjoy today,” he said. “We are encouraged that through this project, documents about the life and times of former president Nelson Mandela will be accessible to as many people as possible across the world.”

Mashatile said that the archives could be used to promote dialogue and social justice, since they depict Mr Mandela’s proud legacy of selfless dedication to humanity and shared his message of love, reconciliation, equality, freedom and dignity for all.

Let’s share stories of Madiba’s life

“Our mission is to use technology to help bring our shared stories online and help all of us to engage with them … and there are none more inspiring than the story of Nelson Mandela’s life,” said Steve Crossan, the head of the Google Cultural Institute.

Mark Yoshitake, Product Manager at the Google Cultural Institute said: “We believe in the power of digital methodologies in bringing the legacy of Madiba to the masses, and to spread and amplify the work that the Centre of Memory has been doing to date.”

The project showcases content that has never been seen or digitised before, artefacts that weren’t accessible before.

“A journey across seven windows or galleries, the archive resembles the physical experience of walking through a museum, looking at the items on the walls,” he said.

But in this ‘museum’, you get to interact with the artefacts and uncover background information about each object, zooming in to the content, paging through material and reading transcripts of handwritten letters.

The Centre of Memory represents a living legacy. As such, the Nelson Mandela digital archive will continue to evolve.

“We have plans for mobile access, we want global partners to add content from across the globe, and we want the public to share their stories on this digital platform,” says Yoshitake.

People can do so by submitting items to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory Google Plus account. A selection will be available on an ongoing basis.

We would like to thank the following for making this initiative possible:

Google Cultural Institute


Ahmed Kathrada

Jack Swart

Benny Gool

National Archives of South Africa

Department of Arts and Culture

Department of Science & Technology

Ardon Bar-Hama

Richard McKibbon

Jill Ruby

Staff at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory


Flow Communications

IT Squared