Nelson Mandela's wife Graca Machel at the launch of the Nelson Mandela Opus in Johannesburg on Tuesday, 3 December 2013. The opus is a publication chronicling the life and times of the anti-apartheid icon. Also pictured is Public Service Minister Lindiwe Sisulu (R) and other members of the Mandela family.Picture: SAPA stringer

Johannesburg - A book chronicling Nelson Mandela's life will ensure that the anti-apartheid icon's legacy is never forgotten, Public Service Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said on Tuesday.

“I want to pledge to all of you that I will fight... to make sure that history is made a compulsory subject for all our children so that at no point do our children grow up not understanding who we are, what we have been through and what has defined what we are today,” she said at the launch of the book, called the Nelson Mandela Opus, in Johannesburg.

“This book will be the first book that will be taught in those schools when I succeed.”

The book chronicles Mandela's life and times.

Sisulu gave her own history lesson on Tuesday, when she told the story of what she called two great heroes who came from the African continent.

They were Hannibal, who came from present-day Tunisia and who conquered Rome, and Shaka.

“But by the time he (Hannibal) died, nobody remembered who he was. Nobody remembered he was an African because he left nothing behind to indicate that he had been there...

“Shaka is a man who created what is known as modern-day nation states in Southern Africa. Unless you dig him up in history, very little of him is known,” Sisulu said.

She said the third legend was Mandela, and it was through the book that his legacy and story would not be forgotten.

“We would like to make sure that 300 years from now everybody will know that there once was a young... man who rose peacefully through every sphere of adversity.”

Present at the launch, at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, were Mandela's wife Graca Machel, his daughter Makaziwe Mandela, grandson Ndaba Mandela, other members of the family, and Mandela's praise singer Zolani Mkiva.

Makaziwe Mandela said her father's spirit was still strong, even though he was sick.

“That spirit is still very, very strong, even if he is sick on his bed,” she said at the launch.

“The story of Tata's life has to be repeated and told over and over again, so we don't forget who we are.”

Opus Media CEO Karl Fowler said half the material in the book, which measures about 50cm by 50cm and weighs 37kg, had not been seen before.

“An opus is about telling iconic and great stories, and hopefully telling the stories that have never been told before by using great photography.”

He said the Nelson Mandela Opus was the biggest the company had made and that each book was hand-stitched.

“This story has to be told, it must be told,” Fowler said.

The book was edited by former Cape Times editor Ryland Fisher. Photojournalist Benny Gool was the official photographer.