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Philamasinya, Madiba


In South Africa, Mandela's face adorns T-shirts and fridge magnets, Christmas tree decorations and gold coins.

Black, white, Indian or coloured — everyone in the rainbow nation loves Nelson Mandela

Perhaps it's something to do with being such a young, new nation, or with its tortured history, but South Africa is inordinately proud of its national symbols and icons. Freed - to a large extent - of their ugly colonial, racist baggage, this is a recently reconstituted country that embraces its new identity, its new look, its new figureheads with a cheerful sense of pride.

If you've got it, flaunt it, could be the mantra as far as South African patriotism is concerned.

Across the colour spectrum of this country, South Africans wear their new flag with huge in-your-face pride, and, to a man, woman and child, they adore Madiba, the affectionate name given to the frail, ailing, revered former president Nelson Mandela.
The colourful flag of the new, post-apartheid era country, for example, is cheerfully used on everything - clothing, products, and advertisements galore. The flag is stood on its head;it is displayed vertically, to look like a cheerful figure;it is altered to fit logos and shapes, and no-one thinks this is being disrespectful or insulting. On the contrary, it is considered patriotic. Businesses incorporate the flag and the words "Proudly South African" as part of their identity. And one feels they really do mean it. It's not just a gimmick.

In the new South Africa, their new symbols are to be used and worn and shown off, not revered. They are to be incorporated into everyday life, not put on a pedestal.

Nelson Mandela, the man who many consider single-handedly steered the new South Africa away from revenge and towards inclusiveness, is a man the whole country loves to love. Unstintingly. In the six years we lived in Johannesburg, I never once heard anything but fulsome praise for Madiba. Black, white, Indian or coloured - everyone in this rainbow nation adores him. And will tell you so. Just this week, a white, Afrikaaner South African told me that the country is braced for bad news, and I quote, "the whole country will be distraught. "

The number of times white friends proudly regaled us with stories of having met the great man, was testimony to the affection in which the nation holds him - and this for a man who was instrumental in ending white rule. I remember staying in a tiny guest house in a small town in the western Cape, and the hotel owner (white, Afrikaans) proudly showing us the room where Madiba had stayed when he over-nighted with them.

Nelson Mandela is a man a nation reveres, and one who has become part of the country's landscape and language and iconography. There is the Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan area around the southern city Port Elizabeth, which is now home to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. The biggest, smartest shopping and dining district in Johannesburg has been named after him, Sandton Square giving way - without a struggle - to Nelson Mandela Square. There is a spanking new bridge in Jo'burg named after Madiba. Parks, streets - all proudly bear his name. This might all smack of political correctness, were it not for the merchandising aspect of Madiba (for want of a better word). Tshirts bearing his face are worn. His face adorns fridge magnets and Christmas tree decorations, gold coins and statues. Everyone wants a piece of the Madiba magic. Clearly commercialism plays a role in all this, let's not fool ourselves, but the buyers are there for Nelson Mandela merchandise. People are not fools, and they wouldn't buy the clothing and the wonderful wire statues, if they didn't love the man.

Madiba magic still holds sway, as a frail old man, his eyes and lungs damaged by 27 years hard labour, battles for life.

Philamasinya, Madiba. Get well soon, Nelson Mandela.

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