A Midland book publisher agreed a deal for a new comprehensive chronicle of the life of Nelson Mandela just days before the former South African president died.

Opus Media Group is to produce what is being billed as the definitive book on the anti-apartheid icon to coincide with celebrations to mark 20 years of democracy in South Africa in 2014.

The half-a-metre square book, weighing 37kg, will include thousands of photographs and contributions from Pope Francis I and former US President Bill Clinton among others.

Plans for it were unveiled in Johannesburg in the presence of members of Mr Mandela’s family and leading South African dignitaries, just days before his death.

Present at the launch, at the Nelson Mandela Foundation were Mr Mandela’s wife Graca Machel, his daughter Makaziwe Mandela, grandson Ndaba Mandela and other members of the family.

Opus said its book would be “the ultimate work on Mandela’s life and legacy” covering his life from his birth to his 95th birthday in July this year.

A spokesman for the company said: “It tells his magnificent story in a unique and definitive way, featuring some of the finest writers, stunning images displayed on an unprecedented scale and presented in a beautifully-designed, luxury format.

“The writings will be accompanied by hundreds of rare and previously unpublished archive images, specially-commissioned photos and beautiful illustrations.”

The book was welcomed by Lindiwe Sisulu, South Africa’s Minister of Public Services.

Speaking at the launch of the project in Johannesburg, Ms Sisulu, daughter of the late Walter Sisulu, the anti-apartheid activist and African National Congress leader, said: “I pledge to fight that history is made a compulsory subject in our schools, so that our children understand who we are, what we went through and where we came from.”

Ms Sisulu also called for the book to become an essential part of the South African schools curriculum, adding: “I would like the Mandela Opus to be the first book that they learn in schools as a compulsory work. We as South Africans remain eternally grateful to Nelson Mandela.”

Mr Mandela’s grandson Ndaba Mandela said: “We are excited about the Mandela Opus which is another way of taking Tata’s legacy to people all over the world. There can never be enough ways of telling his story.”

The Mandela Opus will feature specially written contributions by international figures such as Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Pope Francis I, Sir Richard Branson and a personal account by President Jacob Zuma on his memories of Mr Mandela, known affectionately as ‘Mandiba’.

Former Cape Times editor and author of the book ‘Race’, Ryland Fisher, will edit the Mandela Opus. Mr Fisher and his team, along with photographer Benny Gool, have reviewed more than 20 000 photographs to whittle it down to approximately 2,000 images for the book.

Karl Fowler, chief executive of Opus Media, said: “It is an absolute privilege and honour to be invited to create an opus on one of the world’s greatest icons, global statesman, and former South African President, Nelson Mandela. 

“Mr Mandela’s story is one that touches the hearts and minds of many generations across the globe and we hope that the official Mandela Opus will make a valuable and unique contribution to his legacy and help educate and inspire people from all cultures around the world.”

In total 10,000 of the books will be published. The Mandela book follows other Opus books on subjects including Formula One, Ferrari, Manchester United, Michael Jackson, Sachin Tendulkar and the Springboks.