May 21, 2013

South Africa struggles to uphold ideals


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Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel
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Former South African President Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, attend the final of the FIFA World Cup Soccer Tournament in Johannesburg on July 11, 2010, his last public appearance. Mandela, now old and frail, lives in seclusion in his Johannesburg home, and the fighting over his image and legacy has already begun.

The Associated Press photos

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Banknotes bearing Mandela's image are displayed last year in Pretoria. Across the country Mandela’s face is a familiar sight, beaming from T-shirts, drink coasters and the new banknotes.

The ANC's youth league disputed Tutu's assertion that the ruling party had failed to deliver.

"Young people, who constitute a large voting bloc in the country, expect the Archbishop and other leaders to speak truth anchored by reality and facts and not anecdotal information based on creativity and imagination," the league said in a statement.

The government, however, has said unemployment in the first quarter of this year was just over 25 percent, a figure that analysts say has been caused by weak economic growth and layoffs in the troubled mining sector and other industries. Also, protests against poor delivery of water, electricity and other government services periodically erupt in some South African communities.

Across South Africa, Mandela's face is a familiar sight, beaming from T-shirts, drink coasters and new banknotes. South African bridges, hospitals and schools carry Mandela's name. Statues of him abound, including a towering bronze one in Nelson Mandela Square in a posh shopping complex in the wealthy Johannesburg suburb of Sandton.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Mandela name is also being used commercially by members of his family. There is a "House of Mandela" wine label and two granddaughters are starring in a U.S. television reality show titled "Being Mandela."

Some family members are trying to oust several old allies of the former president from control of two companies. That dispute is headed for the courts, though the old Mandela associates, including human rights lawyer George Bizos, want the case to be dismissed.

Mandela's stellar record can be easily mined in commercial branding, which is based on a "notion of perfection around a set of ideas," said Michael J. Casey, author of "Che's Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image."

The book tells how the famous photograph of the bearded, Argentine-born revolutionary in a beret evolved into a global symbol and brand, seized upon by political activists, sales executives and all manner of other people for whom it resonated, or who wanted to make money from it.

"The narrative around Mandela is a man who stuck to his guns in terms of the struggle," said Casey, who noted that some people bestow a "level of deity" on such transcendent figures.

"You want him to live for the man that he was," Casey said. "It's not to say that he's not a great man, but nobody's perfect."


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