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New Documentary to Tell Nelson Mandela’s Life Story in His Own Words to be Released in 2025

Titled "MANDELA: LIFE", the five-part series will chronicle the most dramatic decade in South Africa's history from 1984-1994 when Mandela went from being a political prisoner to becoming the country's first democratically elected president.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation has authorized an unprecedented documentary series that will bring Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary life story to screens through his own voice and writings.

Titled “MANDELA: LIFE” (working title), the five-part series will chronicle the most dramatic decade in South Africa’s history from 1984-1994 when Mandela went from being a political prisoner to becoming the country’s first democratically elected president.

Directed by acclaimed South African filmmaker Mandla Dube, the series has exclusive permission from the Nelson Mandela Foundation to use Mandela’s voice recreated from his personal archives. It will feature previously unreleased materials, including private letters he wrote from prison during the turbulent “deadly decade” when thousands died in political violence.

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In the works for two years, “MANDELA: LIFE” is slated for a global release on April 27, 2025 – the 31st anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic elections. It comes thirty years after the end of apartheid and a decade after Mandela’s death in 2013 at age 95.

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The Nelson Mandela Foundation, custodians of Mandela’s archives, granted exclusive rights to their long-time creative partners Blackwell & Ruth, who have published five previous books with and about Mandela. Blackwell & Ruth are co-producing with Dube’s Pambilimedia production company.

Nelson Mandela

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Verne Harris, Razia Saleh, and Sahm Venter, the archival team authorized by Mandela in 2004, are collaborating to ensure the most rigorously researched account. The immense source material includes Mandela’s personal prison writings, unseen archival footage, audio recordings, translated transcripts of secret state recordings, and hundreds of pages of his correspondence.

Harris added: “This will be the first documentary or documentary series that we’ve authorized as the Nelson Mandela Foundation and in revisiting his life, especially with the challenge of surfacing his voice, we have authorized the use of archival materials to translate what he wrote to himself into a voice that people can hear.”

“For the Nelson Mandela Foundation this series allows us to share with the world the contents of archival material that very often we’ve been searching for for many years, and have now found; content in Nelson Mandela’s own words which is very rich and offers new insights into his life,” she said.  “One of the values that informs the project is respect for Nelson Mandela’s wish that we interrogate the archive and interrogate his life. Over many years I would go to him with materials that I’d found difficult and ask, “Are you sure you’re comfortable that this can be put in the public domain?” And he would say to me, and also to my colleagues, “Decisions on public access should be handled by professionals. It’s your task.” And the most important directive he gave us was: “You don’t need to protect me.”

“If one looks at the books that have been published about Nelson Mandela, the movies, previous documentaries, whatever the intentions of the creators might have been, overwhelmingly they are a mediation of Black South African experience by white voices, very often not South African. And so, for us it’s really important that the work we’re about to embark on is driven by a Black South African and that the team is a South African team that has a particular ear for that voice that we’re trying to listen to and share with the world,” said Harris.

This first-of-its-kind documentary portrait aims to inspire a new generation by spotlighting how South Africa overcame its deep racial divisions through ethical leadership and activism for justice. With rising global tensions, the producers believe Mandela’s story reminds that healing is possible even in the face of hatred.

“We are decolonizing the lens and the framework of who Nelson Mandela was. There are certain nuances and subtleties that we haven’t seen in films made by international filmmakers about Nelson Mandela because there’s a certain voice that comes with being a child of the soil,”  Dube added.

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