Thousands of letters, photographs and documents relating to former South African President Nelson Mandela went online on Tuesday (March 27) in a project aimed at increasing access to the archives which detail his long walk to freedom.
Items including letters Mandela wrote to his family that were smuggled out of prison, his Methodist church membership card from about 80 years ago and hand-written diaries have been digitized and laid out on a website.
Archive.nelsonmandela.org is designed to look like a museum exhibit.
The project, with an initial cost of 3 million U.S. dollars, was put together by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and the Google Cultural Institute.
South African minister of science and technology Naledi Pandor praised the project at the gala presentation in Johannesburg.
"These archives form part of a knowledge enterprise and allow the world to draw on the example of leadership and humility that Mr Mandela represents. I think what young people will probably learn from the archive as they troll through it is that it is possible to sustain positive values in the manner in which you live your life and the example that you are," said Pandor.
It is a first for Internet giant Google, which has made sure the material is open to all and original copyright holders keep their rights. Google is planning to use this project as a springboard to bring more content on line from other historical figures of the 20th century.
"Obviously the museum experience is the real thing and of course you can see the actual size of the objects, some of those were diaries very small, some of them were really big and you can't really get that type of experience just online. So what we will do is kind of normalise, its a little bit more of an average experience. The good news of course is that you can interact with the content, you can search the content, the types of things you can't do at a museum, so although we have mimicked the museum experience we are now at a place where we think we augmented the experience," said Mark Yoshitake, who leads project management for the Google Cultural Institute.
Sections such as "Presidential Years" include photos with links to videos, text, personal notes and testimonials laid out for use with typical computers and tablets.
Ndileka Mandela, the granddaughter of the former president, said he has always been a progressive man and is elated by the on-line archive.
"I think it's important because Madiba (Mandela) does not, you know, exist in isolation of his family, and what ever happened in his life because if you look at his books, you know, The Long walk to freedom Nelson Mandela by himself, it's mainly focuses on his political career and I'm hoping that this will encompass more than his political career and encompass you know his personal interaction with people from various forms of life and also his family," she said.
The Head of Nelson Mandela Foundation said Mandela himself was involved in putting the project together.
"Our team in the years they did the research consulted him constantly and he in fact has the savvy to recognise about what would happen if you made it available in hardcopy or in the conventional way and what precautions we have to take. It's the same type of precautions you are gonna have to take when you make it available digitally. So for example, you would say: this letter, you will have to get permission from this person before you publish because, look, it was written under these circumstances and these are the sensitivities. So you know he was savvy enough to recognise that the fundamental thing here is to get your archiving right and then what flows the digital process is much easier," said Nelson Mandela Foundation Chief Executive Officer Achmat Dangor.
Mandela, 93, underwent keyhole abdominal examination last month that showed nothing was wrong with the man awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping bring down white-minority apartheid rule in South Africa.