Madiba: a man of many identities

2013-06-30 10:00

Poor man. Madiba, trying to relax peacefully, amid our squawling and caterwauling.

By Thursday, the governing ANC had it with everybody claiming Madiba as a global icon and forgetting that his blood runs green, black and gold.

So the party reasserted its authority over him by sending truckloads of comrades to night vigils outside the Pretoria heart hospital, where the old man was being treated, and elsewhere. That the party turned it into a campaign for next year’s general election is not surprising – the party needs his gloss.

As did the official opposition DA, which used the icon’s images to headline its “Know your DA” campaign recently.

With his global cachet as the world’s greatest living leader, Nelson Mandela’s identity is variously contested.

On Thursday, his eldest daughter Makaziwe Mandela declared “he is ours” and pleaded for the wall-to-wall coverage of Madiba to stop and for him to finally be returned to his family’s ownership.

For the longest time, Madiba has been acutely aware of the way in which his people took him away from his family, so the new matriarch’s concerns are understandable.

Back in Qunu, the AbaThembu elders know that Madiba is now theirs. Our founding father was perfectly clear that he wanted to spend his grey years at his ancestral home and he did, until fading health brought him back to Joburg and Pretoria for the range of hospitals close by.

The unprecedented global media presence marks another area of contested identity: The world thinks Mandela belongs to them too.

This week, his fading health, which has been defined as critical, was top of most bulletins, almost completely eclipsing US President Barack Obama’s African safari, as well as the turmoil in the global economy and massive protests in Brazil and Turkey.

For this, the global media feeding the insatiable appetite for news about Mandela have been branded “vultures” by many, including Makaziwe.

We might all do well to stop the fighting. Mandela has managed to live all his various identities to the full. He is chief, father of democracy, freedom fighter, revolutionary leader, prisoner of conscience, president and global icon.

South Africa would do well to embrace all these identities rather than tear them apart.

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