Mandela comics to help "correct" S.African history

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From his cramped studio in a Johannesburg cottage, Nic Buchanan is leading five young African artists to produce a nine-part series of comic books on Mandela's life "to help young people rediscover the correct and proud history of South Africa." Mandela is due to launch the first of the "Madiba Legacy Series" in Johannesburg on Friday. Some 1 million copies of the first book, sponsored by mining group Anglo American, are being shipped to schools and newspapers for free distribution.

The first of the nine comics, "A son of the Eastern Cape," covers Mandela's humble birth on July 18, 1918, in the mud hut village of Mwezo, near Qunu in what was then the Transkei, 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.

One section depicts how Mandela and his step-brother stole cattle, lied to clan elders and ran away to Johannesburg to escape an arranged marriage. Mandela's first name Rolihlahla is translated in the comic as "the one who troubles," although he is most commonly referred to by his clan name Madiba.

"The thread of the story is that he was a troublemaker. When he made up his mind that something was not right, he fought it hard," Buchanan said, citing Mandela's expulsion from Fort Hare University for rebellious behavior.

"Portraying him as a normal person is important in getting the message across to kids," Buchanan says. "They could have been born in a mud hut but still gone on to do great things."

The Mandela Center of Memory has scheduled a comprehensive feedback program to see how the message gets to the youth.

"We don't want to just throw the comics around," the center's project director Verne Harris told Reuters. The center would run a quiz in newspapers and seek feedback directly from selected schools in the Eastern Cape, he said.

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