Google puts Nelson Mandela digital archives on the internet

27 Mar 2012

Archived documents and photos of South African leader and statesman Nelson Mandela have been digitised and are available for the public to access via a new Google initiative. Google gave a US$1.25m grant to the Johannesburg-based Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory to make it happen.

The donation enabled the internet giant to preserve and digitise thousands of archived documents, photos and videos about Mandela.

The new online multimedia archive includes Mandela’s correspondence with family, comrades and friends, diaries written during his 27 years of imprisonment, and notes he made while leading the negotiations that ended apartheid in South Africa.

A full spectrum on Mandela’s life

The archive will also include the earliest-known photograph of Mandela, rare images of his cell on Robben Island in the 1970s, and never-seen drafts of Mandela’s manuscripts for the sequel to his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.

“It is invigorating to see our combined efforts become a reality,” said Verne Harris from the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

“This digital initiative will make it possible for us to reach the full spectrum of our stakeholders, from the global elite to systemically disadvantaged South Africans,” Harris said.

The digital archive allows users to explore different parts of Mandela’s life and work in depth, such as his early life, the prison years, the presidential years, his retirement and various other archived interviews, memories and books.

“The archive currently includes over 1,900 unique images, documents and videos, and will grow over time,” said Luke Mckend, country manager for Google South Africa.  

“South Africans from all walks of life can now engage with important parts of our country’s history. For example, reading handwritten pages of a letter smuggled from Robben Island in 1977, or seeing warrant documents that sent Mandela to jail first for five years and then for life.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years