Art, Culture, Books and Travel

Sell out or cash in: What is Mandela’s legacy?

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On a particular day in July, the United Nations requests us to aside 67 minutes of the day to charity, volunteering in an activity or participating in a community event in honour of one of the most well known Africans, whose birthday falls on that date.

Since 2009, July 18 has become a day the world celebrates the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and the values that he symbolises, the idea that each individual has the power to transform the world, the ability to make an impact. The day was officially declared Nelson Mandela International Day by the UN General Assembly in 2009 and the first marked in 2010.

A statement from the UN states, “The 67-minute campaign—“Take Action, Inspire Change”—is based on people devoting one minute of their time for every year that Nelson Mandela devoted to public service as a human rights lawyer, a prisoner of conscience, an international peacemaker and the first democratically elected President of South Africa.”

The UN declaration was a progression from the series of activities including music concerts that were being held in the previous years by some groups in different parts of the world to celebrate Mandela. This July, Nelson Mandela made 94 years. From New York to Cape Town to Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and hundreds of cities in between all across the globe, the activities included giving food to the hungry, donations of books and other scholastic materials to schools, musical performances, art and cultural exhibitions and road races to raise awareness for various causes.

In Kampala, the South African High Commission partnered with Always Be Tolerant (Abeto), a non-governmental organisation that promotes tolerance and values of humanity, to paint Wandegeya Primary School and distribute books to the pupils.

According to Moses Musana, the Abeto executive director, the school was chosen because its pupils are drawn from the less privileged neighbourhoods of Katanga and Kivulu and as far as Kalerwe. “Some of the pupils here come to school without shoes,” he said. “In the spirit of this day, I call upon pupils from better-off schools to donate their extra pairs of shoes to such pupils.”

Call to unite
At the occasion which was also attended by a number of MPs from his home country, South African High Commissioner, Jon Qwelane, remarked “There are few things that set us apart and many things that bring us together. We should discard those things that divide us.”

The power of the Mandela story that has been retold many times and mythicised is such that it is difficult to talk about him without referring to him as an icon, a great man or a visionary. The 2012 Mandela Day came amidst some controversy in South Africa, where Madiba as he is fondly called, is revered and placed beyond reproach. And though this did not drown the adulation, it nevertheless caused ripples.

That is why a scathing statement from the Azania Peoples’ Organisation (Azapo) released last month was shocking. It is one of the organisations that fought the apartheid regime together with similar groups like the African National Congress (ANC).

In the statement, Azapo Youth League president Amukelani Ngobeni, stated Mandela would not have peace should he die without apologising for “selling out black people’s struggle through the secret talks with the apartheid government”. He alleged that Mandela entered into talks with government and agreed on a compromised constitution which makes it difficult for the government to deliver in its duties to service the citizens. He added: “Mandela and his friends were excited and could not wait to occupy the global political space at the expense of the struggle for complete political, social and economic emancipation.”

It is true that there is growing discontent about ANC government not honouring some of the promises it made to the South African people in terms of service delivery, but Mandela left government in 1999 after serving one term as president. How then, could he blamed for all that has not gone right in the last 13 years?

Perhaps, the myth of Mandela has grown so much bigger than Mandela the man. Besides all the over 250 awards and honours he has received from all over the world, he is a human being like any other with a limit to what he can do.

Interestingly, this is not the first time that such criticism has been voiced. In 2010, Ms Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, his ex-wife and an MP in South Africa, was quoted in a British newspaper as saying that Mandela had let Blacks down. “He agreed to a bad deal for the Blacks. Economically, we are still on the outside. The economy is very much ‘White. It has a few token Blacks, but so many who gave their life in the struggle have died unrewarded,” she said. Though she later denied having said, it is still a feeling that some people in and out of South Africa have about Mandela.

Ever the controversial politician, Ms Madikizela-Mandela was in the news last week over a leaked e-mail she sent to the ANC party headquarters. She complained about how her family was deeply hurt by ANC’s “shabby treatment through the years”. She wrote: “It is quite clear that we do not matter at all, we only do when we have to be used for some agenda.”

Legacy abused?
This begs the question: Is the Mandela name and image now being used to advance different agendas, even commercial ones by those who see it as an opportunity to make a buck? Has Mandela become a global brand on which anyone with some business acumen can cash in?

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