October 28, 2005

Mandela regales in new role as comic character

By John Chiahemen

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Nelson Mandela launched a new
comic book about his life on Friday but said he could not
comment much on his role as the main character for fear of

"It is hard for me to say a lot about it," the
anti-apartheid icon told a crowded news conference in

"I am not an expert on the subject of comics. And it would
be unwise for me to discuss myself as the main character. We
human beings tend to exaggerate most when we are talking about
ourselves," he said. "So I will leave the exaggeration to
historians and other experts."

The Mandela Foundation's Center of Memory commissioned the
nine-part series as part of its plan to preserve the legacy of
Mandela, who sacrificed 27 years of his life in apartheid jails
in his fight against racist white rule in South Africa. He was
elected the country's first black president in 1994.

Now retired and increasingly frail at 87, Madiba, as he is
fondly referred to by his clan name, continues to champion
social causes including the fight against AIDS.

The promoters of the series also hope they will help South
Africans learn what one called the "correct and proud" history
of their country, which was not taught in apartheid schools.

"The history we were taught started with the arrival of Jan
van Riebeeck in 1652," Nic Buchanan, publisher of the series
told Reuters earlier, referring to the first Dutch white
settler in South Africa.

"Everything before then was written off as savagery or
barbarism. Any story that involved heroism was about white
people," said Buchanan, who leads five other young African
artists working on the project.

The first of the nine comics, "A Son of the Eastern Cape,"
covers Mandela's birth on July 18, 1918, in the mud hut village
of Mwezo, near Qunu in what was then the Transkei region of
South Africa, up to his arrival in Johannesburg as a precocious
lad in 1941.

It captures the condition most South Africans lived in and
presents Mandela as a normal human being who made his mistakes.

Just over 1 million copies of the first comic, sponsored by
mining group Anglo American, have been shipped to schools and
newspapers for free distribution.

The series will eventually be translated from English into
South Africa's 10 other official languages.

The Mandela Center of Memory says it has received
publishing enquiries from Russia, Italy and Canada.
African-American readers and Japan's $7 billion a year comics
market are other potential outlets.

At Friday's launch Mandela said: "My hope is that the
elementary reading of comics will lead the youth to the joy of
reading good books. That joy has been mine all my life, and it
is one I wish for all South Africans."

He said he hoped the comics would also be read by adults.

"For those like me whose sight is not what it was, there is
the option of simply looking at the pictures."