A gigantic portrait-blanket of Madiba is seen from the air. Picture: Rudzani Matshili

Pretoria - Hundreds of prisoners have crocheted a 7 000-square metre blanket in honour of late anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela.

The enormous blanket, unveiled on Tuesday, depicts the face of the former president and is made up of more than 3 000 smaller squares. Revealed at the Zonderwater Prison outside Pretoria, the crocheted artwork is meant to mark the centenary of Mandela's birth this year.

The project is spearheaded by 67 Blankets, a non-profit organization that began crocheting blankets in honour of Nelson Mandela's 67 years in service to improve the lives of South Africans. Each year, South Africans mark Mandela's birthday by dedicating 67 minutes of their time to a worthy cause.

"The idea of this day today is to show the whole world, that stitch by stitch we can put the world together into one for the ideals of Nelson Mandela," said Caroline Steyn, founder of 67 Blankets.

Inmates Sipho Dickson Ndlovu and Brian Mangwale with the founder of 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day, Carolyn Steyn and Department of Correctional Services national project co-ordinator Laetitia Redman. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

April is the start of winter in South Africa, and it has been 24 years since the end of apartheid, said Steyn. After the launch, the blankets will be reduced to nearly 4 000 smaller blankets and will be distributed to needy South Africans.

Since 2013, 67 Blankets has evolved into an initiative that not only supports prisoner rehabilitation through crocheting but also receives crocheted blankets from around the world. Some 850 inmates, schoolchildren, the elderly and other groups have all contributed the 1.6-by-1.6-metre squares to make the enormous blanket.

Picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency (ANA)

"If you're in prison, it feels like being lost but supporting the idea of 67 Blankets is like a rescue for your soul," inmate Muziwendoda Kunene said.

Mandela was perhaps one of the world's most famous prisoners, held on Robben Island for fighting apartheid. He died in December 2013 at the age of 95.