The project is the joint effort of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and Google, who provided the Centre with a $1.25 million (£782,000) grant to help preserve the collection and make it digitally available to the public.

“The Mandela Digital Archive Project shows how the Internet can help preserve historical heritage and make it available to the world,” Steve Crossan, director of the Google Cultural Institute said.

At an event promoting the launch in Johannesburg last week, the statesman’s granddaughter, Ndileka Mandela, told the Guardian: “I think it’s just awesome. Grandad is all about equipping the young generation. This taps into the social networks in a way children can relate to and that’s incredibly important. And it’s free: they don’t have to pay.”

The project was first announced a year ago and includes church membership cards, early photos of his prison cell and a 1969 letter written by Mandela to his daughters after their mother was detained by police during South Africa’s apartheid days. The collection also includes rare photos like those of Mandela with Yasser Arafat and Muammar Gaddafi.

Image: Getty.