Mandela: comic book hero

1 November 2005

"You know you are really famous when you become a comic character," joked former South African President Nelson Mandela at the launch of a series of nine comic books on his life.

The aim of the books is to encourage young South Africans to read - and to teach them their history. With funding from Anglo American, a million copies of A Son of the Eastern Cape, the first in the series, were distributed in newspapers and to secondary schools throughout the country on Monday.

Speaking at the launch at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg, the former president told reporters the strips were aimed mainly at youngsters.

Mandela and his cousins, from A Son of the Eastern Cape

"My hope is that elementary reading of comics will lead the youth to the joy of reading good books," he said.

"That joy has been mine all my life, and it is one I wish for all South Africans. If it is easy to read for other people like me, with eyes not like they used to be, and it reaches entirely new readers, then the project will prove to be worthwhile."

Mandela as a baby, from A Son of the Eastern Cape

A Son of the Eastern Cape covers Mandela's formative years, from his birth on 18 July 1918. The opening panels show Mandela as a swaddled baby in his parents' arms in their mud hut in the village of Mwezo, near Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

The story continues with his family being forced to leave Mvezo following a dispute with a white magistrate, the death of his father, his circumcision ceremony, and Mandela's decision to steal cattle with his cousin - to raise money so he could escape an arranged marriage. It ends with Madiba's arrival in Johannesburg as a young man of 22 in 1941.

'They don't know their history'
''The current generation of youth knows that Mandela was our president and that he was in jail, but that's it," Nic Buchanan, the creator of the comic books, told the Boston Globe. ''They don't know their own history. We celebrated democracy and the miracle, but the building stones of a progressive and enlightened society needs work."

Mandela's circumcision, from A Son of the Eastern Cape

Buchanan thought that the story of Mandela's life should also be told through comics. He approached the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which agreed to back the project.

To prepare himself, Buchanan read books and consulted historians, journalists and the foundation's archives. He and five artists worked for six months to produce the first 26-page edition.

He faced many challenges. One was that no pictures exist of Mandela before the age of 19, so Buchanan and his artists had to imagine Mandela's appearance as a boy. For direction, they studied his facial bone structure, including Mandela's prominent cheekbones.

The books will be translated from English into South Africa's 10 other official languages, and a teacher's guide is to be created.

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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Nelson Mandela as a boy in A Son of the Eastern Cape
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