JOHANNESBURG – Internet search giant Google said it is working with the Nelson Mandela Foundation to publish thousands of never-before-seen documents belonging to the anti-apartheid icon, through a $1.25 million grant given to Mandela's foundation Tuesday.
The money will allow the foundation to scan more than 10,000 of Mandela's personal records, including unreleased notes written during his 27 years of imprisonment for his fight against apartheid, Google spokesman Luke Mckend said. The database will be accessible for free on the Internet.
Achmat Dangor, the foundation's chief executive, said anyone with a computer "from Timbuktu to New York" will be able to access documents about the 92-year-old Nobel peace laureate.
While much has been written about Mandela already -- including hundreds of books, notably his autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom," which has sold millions around the world -- foundation officials said the new trove may shed further insight into his personal thoughts about South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress, in the mid-1990s. That party has since dominated South African politics.
The foundation is also appealing to foreign governments to share their documents on Mandela. Citing rumors that information from the CIA led to Mandela's 1962 arrest, Dangor said the foundation seeks any documents that might substantiate that and is looking for any other archival information that could shed light on other issues, no matter how sensitive.
Mckend said Google joined the project because of its capacity to preserve historical heritage and its potential use in classrooms.
"If you look at all the people talking about peace with the protests right now, there's got to be some message we can extract from these documents," said Daniel Lederman, Google's director of new business development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Film clips and audio bites have already been archived, and the foundation is now working on processing thousands of paper documents from Mandela's life.
Mandela has given the foundation full control over which of his documents they upload to the internet, but the foundation will not make public the "extremely personal" documents.
"This is not a question of censorship but sensitivity -- if it doesn't add value to the life of Nelson Mandela, how relevant is that?" Dangor said.
Mandela established the foundation's memory center in 2004, hoping to increase access to documents about his life, Dangor said. He became South Africa's first black president in 1994 and stepped down in 1999, after serving one term.