In a novel initiative, hundreds of inmates from South African prisons will knit the world’s largest portrait blanket of Nelson Mandela that will be visible from space to mark the anti-apartheid icon’s 100th birth anniversary next year. The ‘Massive Mandela Masterpiece’ project is the brainchild of the ’67 Blankets for Mandela’ organisation started a few years ago by Carolyn Steyn to knit blankets in honour of the number of years that Mandela has spent in service of his country. The massive portrait is being made to mark Mandela’s 100th birth anniversary on July 18 next year. “This will be the largest portrait blanket in the world,” Steyn said at the launch of the project by the Department of Correctional Services at the Zonderwater Correctional Centre yesterday. “Each blanket will measure 160 by 160 centimetres to make a pixel. Together in the right pattern, the blanket will measure about 4,500 square metres and you will not only be able to see Madiba’s face from the sky, but also from space,” Steyn added.
The huge blanket will be knitted from wool worth almost R14 million which has been donated by an anonymous well-wisher believed to be a wealthy businessman. Steyn said she had started working with the inmates at prisons in 2014 so that they could spend their time constructively while also experiencing the therapeutic benefits of knitting. “Initially 10 inmates made some blankets which were donated to the needy, but this soon grew by last year to inmates at 80 correctional centres (prisons) who made hundreds of blankets which were distributed to the needy during the harsh winter,” Steyn said. Excited inmates recalled how fellow inmates had initially called them “sissies” and laughed at them when they started knitting. “But as soon as they heard that we were doing it for Madiba who freed our country, they began joining in,” said Amos, who declined to give his surname and is expected to be released by next year. The global icon died in December 2013 aged 95. In 2014, ’67 Blankets for Mandela’ achieved a world record with the largest crochet blanket in the world, measuring 3,377 square metres, but India made one more than three times that size – 11,000 square metres – to snatch the record in February last year. Steyn motivated people across South Africa to join in to regain the record two months later with a blanket of 17,188 square metres.