Too big for any museum, Mandela's show hits road

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The Independent Online

So, organisers of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory Project, run by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, are planning a rugby match, lectures, comic books and a virtual gallery.

Cyril Ramaphosa, a foundation trustee, said : "What we are seeking to do, and it is a process we are 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."

Mr Ramaphosa, who presided over the drafting of a post-apartheid constitution, joined others who fought apartheid with Mr Mandela at the Johannesburg-based foundation yesterday to launch a series of activities marking his birthday - which falls on Monday. They include a book of photographs on Mr Mandela's 27 years in jail and a children's party.

An exhibition features some of the thousands of gifts and awards Mr Mandela receives every year. There is a painting by actor Robert de Niro's father, a pair of green size 13 sneakers from the South African tennis champion Amanda Coetzer, a bust of Mr 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 Mr Mandela shared with South Africa's last white president, F W De Klerk.

Leaning heavily on Mr Ramaphosa's arm, a frail-looking Mr Mandela perused the collection yesterday. "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 schoolchildren - can view the many other Mandela artefacts, photographs, newsreels and documents in collections around the world.

A 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 Mr Mandela's life and values.

"One of the sad realities today is that very few people, especially young people, read books," Mr Mandela said. "Unless we find imaginative ways of addressing this reality, future generations are in danger of losing their histories."

Mr Mandela's presidency was marked by his commitment to reconciling a violently divided nation.

On 23 July, the national rugby team play Australia in the stadium where Mr 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, he reassured millions of the sport's largely white fans they had a place in post-apartheid South Africa.

The game will be played in Mr Mandela's honour and the whole stadium will be urged to sing "Happy Birthday" for him, said South Africa's rugby president Brian Van Rooyen.

Even after Mr 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.

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 the Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai. Also attending will be former American president Bill Clinton and the Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who delivered previous lectures.

Despite the focus on him, Mr Mandela hoped the rest of South Africa would join him in celebrating their country's achievements, not just his own remarkable life.

Mr Mandela said yesterday: "Our country represents a symbol of reconciliation and hope in the world, and the gifts and awards you see in the exhibition are an acknowledgment of that. Today, we are sharing the honour with all South Africans."