Madiba 90

Man with the Midas touch

2008-07-17 13:23

Special Report

Mandela: SA needs good leaders

Now as much as ever, South Africa needs disciplined leaders, Nelson Mandela has said at birthday celebration in Pretoria.

Johannesburg - It's a decade since he retired and his public appearances are increasingly rare, but the image of Nelson Mandela is still being worked overtime in the hope it can sprinkle some of his stardust.

As the former president and anti-apartheid icon turns 90, his charity foundation has unveiled a whole new range of "Madiba" products while warning off others who attempt to cash in on his name.

In the countdown to his birthday on Friday, a new R5 Mandela coin, limited edition stamps and commemorative bangles have all gone on sale.

And readers who have ploughed through his mammoth Long Walk to Freedom autobiography can now now learn about some of his favourite meals in Hunger for Freedom: The Story of Food in the Life of Nelson Mandela, or even a comic book detailing his life and times.

"He is a famous brand name ... an international icon whose name opens many doors and sells products," says Elleke Boehmer, author of the newly-released book Nelson Mandela: A Very Short Introduction.

Travelling a strain

Since standing down in 1999 at the end of a single five-year term as president, Mandela has devoted much of his energy towards causes close to his heart such as the battle against Aids and the plight of children.

An annual 46664 concert, named after his prison number, has raised millions of dollars for the fight against HIV/Aids. The most recent concert was held in London last month, with a frail Mandela watching on as the likes of Amy Winehouse, Will Smith and Annie Lennox took to the stage in Hyde Park.

Although Mandela undoubtedly finds the travelling a strain on his ageing body, he is aware that his presence can make all the difference.

"You all know that I am supposed to be retired but my friends and the charitable organisations that bear my name want to use my 90th birthday year to raise funds to continue our work and so of course I want to help them," he told reporters when the concert was first announced.

Achmat Dangor, chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said that Mandela's involvement meant it was easy to attract celebrities to the cause.

"They are enthusiastic to be part of this campaign project," Dangor said. "A lot has been achieved through the incorporation of these star artists, mostly international, into the campaign. Their audience listens to them, and through them, they embrace the message we want to impart."

The 46664 number has also been etched onto a series of limited edition bangles in gold, silver and platinum released by the foundation last month to coincide with the Hyde Park concert.

The foundation has set itself a target of raising R1 billion for the fight against Aids, which claimed the life of his son, by selling 2.5 million bangles in 10 years.

However the clamour by celebrities to be pictured with Mandela, whether on the stage or at his offices in Johannesburg, has been derided in some quarters.

Exploiting his image

"A genuine hero who has paid his dues ... and yet now, at 90, he has to be embraced by vacuous supermodels and racing car drivers, people who have never heard of the ANC, all to raise cash for his foundation," said a recent opinion piece in The Star newspaper.

Given his continued pulling power, it is perhaps not surprising that the foundation is prepared to fight to prevent others exploiting his image.

While the Mandela comic and cook books come with the official seal of approval, the foundation placed adverts in newspapers to underline that a new children's colouring book was unauthorised and has resorted to legal action against others such as designers of clothing emblazoned with his image.

"We don't want him to be another Che Guevara - just another face on a T-shirt," said Dangor.

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