Don’t take Nelson Mandela out of the ANC. Just don’t. Even though he was the kind of politician who rose above narrow party political interests, we still have to thank the ANC for nurturing him. Maybe it’s true that Madiba was a great individual and that any other party would have done the job too, but no other party did. Mandela grew in the ANC and eventually died in the party too. Don’t deny that history, and don’t say the governing party has no right to claim him in official memorials and celebrations of his life. On Tuesday, ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and national executive committee chairperson Baleka Mbete were programme directors at Madiba’s official memorial service. Both of them are competent and respected individuals. The main criticism against their presence at the ceremony was directed at their party political affiliation. But they had every right to be there, whether government paid for the ceremony or not. After all, nobody questioned the family’s involvement in the state-sponsored celebrations. People assume the family have the right to be there, so, why not the ANC? The party is part of Madiba as much as his relatives are. In fact, the ANC was his family for at least 27 years when he was in prison with comrades with whom he forged lifelong close ties. Even when he was a free man, the ANC made him have less of a family life than most people. He was an ANC member much longer than the five years he was president, or the almost 20 years he was in the custody of the South African people. For 27 years, he sat in prison because of the party. We can’t now deny him those ties. Former president Thabo Mbeki, in an interview with City Press on Thursday, said divorcing Madiba from the ANC could lead to an incorrect interpretation of history. It’s also not what Mandela would have wanted. Mandela himself insisted that the policies he pursued were the policies of the collective, Mbeki said, although Mandela took the lead in certain matters, such as when the ANC went underground. Mbeki reckoned Mandela’s hero worship started when the ANC decided to intensify the campaign for the release of political prisoners. “The decision was that it is easier for the mind to centre it around individual. It then became a campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners. Later, the latter dropped, and it became a “free Mandela” campaign in songs and poems and so on. It was easier to grasp in that way,” he said. But clinging on to this concept of Mandela as an individual apart from the ANC could be misleading. “There are South Africans who feel very uneasy about what is going to happen now that Mandela has died,” he said. Mandela is being credited with bringing about reconciliation in South Africa, but it really was an ANC project and Mandela worked as part of a collective. Now people say “once (Mandela) goes, the project goes with him. It is a consequence of misreading, of the subtraction of Nelson Mandela from the ANC,” Mbeki said. If you look at it this way, and the right-wing conspiracy theories this can give birth to, separating Mandela from the ANC can have negative consequences. It is also out of keeping with reality. At the memorial service organised by the ANC yesterday – one of the most intimate and warmest of this week’s big events – grandson Ndaba Mandela acknowledged that the family had to share his grandfather with the ANC. In fact, it was one of the painful realities of Mandela’s life, that the ANC played such a big role in his life that he missed out on time with his family. So why deny the party its role now, if it was so central to Madiba’s life? The ANC may not be the same now as it was under him, but Mandela’s death creates the opportunity for serious introspection. This could even be the ANC’s last shot at salvation. With the party still playing a leading role in government and general society, South Africa cannot afford to miss such an opportunity.