With the death this week of Nelson Mandela, an arrangement between the University of Missouri and the University of Western Cape to digitally preserve some of his historic papers has taken on more significance.
In the spirit of documenting the many facets of Mandela’s life for future generations, the two universities and the Robben Island Museum are collaborating on a project to provide global access to thousands of papers, photographs and other items that chronicle the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
“While the loss of Mandela has saddened everyone, Mandela’s legacy of reconciliation and forgiveness, towards the vision of the ‘rainbow’ nation, will live on in this way,” Daniel L. Clay, dean of the MU College of Education, said Friday in a statement.
The collection includes records on political prisoners held on Robben Island, including Mandela, who was jailed for 27 years — 18 years on the island — for his fight against white minority rule.
In 1994, four years after he was freed, Mandela became the first black president of South Africa and a symbol of peace, tolerance and democracy.
Among the materials are films, about 120,000 photographs and papers from more than 300 individuals and groups involved in the struggle.
“This is birth-of-a-nation type stuff,” said Tom Kochtanek, associate professor in the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies.
Kochtanek said when the MU team went to Western Cape to see the collection, it had been well preserved and was housed “in four rooms in the bowels of the university.”
The MU team will select and scan documents and make them part of a website.
In 1996, Kochtanek’s team began a similar project putting millions of pages of documents from the Truman Library on a website accessible to anyone anywhere in the world. The team has been working on that project for 17 years, and it gets about 50 million hits a year, Kochtanek said.