Mandela ching-ching

2010-09-18 11:58

Like taking in the Big Five and maybe ­grabbing a pastry in Franschhoek, making a turn at Madiba’s place has become the must-do for the well-connected globetrotter these days. And the deeper their pockets, the better, it seems.
 
The efforts by the Great Man’s brand managers to threaten and punish ordinary people lest they get cheeky and start selling Mandela keyrings are laudable.

They are less adept, alas, at holding the door against a procession of unsavoury characters trying to score international morality brownie points.

From washed-out pop stars to bona fide dictators and torturers, Nelson Mandela’s minders, ­despite their moral posturing, don’t seem all that discerning when it comes to determining whose company their man keeps.

As long as the Benjamins (US dollars) are green, as the saying goes.

Earlier this year, a group of desperately poor men, women and children being turfed out of their shacks to make way for a golfing estate in Dainfern, north of ­Johannesburg, dangled newspaper clippings of a beaming Mandela visiting the same site with one of the estate’s owners, property ­magnate Douw Steyn.

The toyi-toying squatters ­accused Mandela of being ‘exploited by capitalists’.

Then there are the well-known pictures of Mandela shaking hands with or being hugged by some of the world’s most notorious figures.

As they sip rooibos in Houghton, their people are being beaten, chained, starved and killed in their native lands.

As a result, far from being the hallowed image that once took pride of place on the mantelpiece, a picture with Mandela now feels cheaper than a postcard at the Great Pyramid of Giza.
 
The latest scandal, involving ­ former Liberian president Charles Taylor and some dodgy gems, ­allegedly pocketed for safekeeping by a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, should come as no surprise.

Nor should the picture of ­Mandela alongside grinning fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra , that surfaced earlier this month.

The foundation, which reportedly controls Mandela’s itinerary with an iron fist, has ‘distanced ­itself’ from the meeting, calling it a private courtesy call.

This business of ‘distancing ­itself’ from events after the fact, has become a trademark (pardon the pun) of this paper tiger organisation that regularly traffics in ­bullying, threats and intimidation of the public over anything relating to Mandela’s image or name.

Earlier this year, the tragicomic chief executive of the foundation, Achmat Dangor, had us quivering in our boots when he issued a stern warning to all who had designs on profiting from the image of Mr Mandela.

He was less forthcoming in warning the dictators and dodgy businessmen to stay away.

The foundation, of course, would argue they have the man’s full ­consent.

One guesses, then, that they also had Mandela’s consent to publicly humiliate the head of state of ­Congo-Brazzaville, Denis Sassou Nguesso, accusing him of lies and forgery after a glowing tribute ­appeared in Sassou Nguesso’s memoirs last year.

After much sabre rattling, the foundation had to climb down from its high horse after it was ­discovered Mandela had actually written the tribute.

It did the same in 2005 over the “fake artworks scandal” involving Ross Calder and Ismail Ayob.

The foundation was quick to join the fray, calling for Calder and ­Ayob’s heads for using Tata’s name without their consent.

Yet, Calder maintained (and it has not been denied) that the questionable art was sold with the full consent of the Mandela family, and that two of Mandela’s daughters made “at least R36 million from sales of their father’s paintings”.

At the time, media reports ­quoted a lawyer for the foundation saying: “Mr Mandela is cross and he gets crosser if you use his name or image commercially without ­approval.”

That said, it doesn’t appear to bother the foundation when some use ­Mandela’s name for political ­purposes in a bid to hitch their ­rickety wagons to the chariot of ­exemplary statesmanship.

Which would perhaps explain away those yearly millions and millions of rands of ‘anonymous’ and ‘undesignated’ funds flowing into the foundation’s coffers, as can be seen from perusing its annual reports over the past 10 years.

In an article published in Harper’s Magazine in 2008, titled Mandela’s Smile, Breyten Breytenbach lamented the “obscene” sight of the “hollow international jet set” slobbering over Mandela.

Mandela’s aura, wrote Breytenbach, had been put up for sale, ­allowing the rich to “cheaply identify with and benefit from a suggested correct political stance in the new dispensation”.

Before long, one hopes, the public will grow tired of the increasingly arrogant and annoying public posturing of this organisation.

Since Mandela stepped down in 1999, the foundation – with a big ‘F’ – has assumed the role of gatekeeper, policeman and high priest of all that is Nelson Mandela.

But in approving associations with the shadowy characters he has been pictured with of late, the foundation is proving itself to be nothing more than a paper tiger with dollar signs in its eyes.

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