Who owns Nelson Mandela?

By Kamna Arora | Updated: Jun 28, 2013, 12:48 PM IST

Kamna Arora

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela - the man needs no introduction. The magic of the living legend has not just enthralled his countrymen, but left the international community spellbound.

Mandela, who is deemed as the ultimate public servant, is hailed and respected as a symbol of sacrifice. The man helped South Africans crush White minority rule and led the country`s transition to democracy. The 94-year-old liberation hero is today battling for his own life.

Almost 10 years have passed since he withdrew from public life. Last time he made an appearance was during the 2010 FIFA World Cup organised in his own country. But South Africans are still not used to Mandela`s absence. Today, the whole world is praying for `Madiba`, as he is known in South Africa. As soon as news of his being hospitalised again spread, well-wishers and supporters thronged outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital, leaving flowers, drawings and messages of support for him.

Mandela’s condition continues to be “stable but serious”. "Let him go", one weekly newspaper headline said. Voices are growing urging Mandela’s family to “release him so that God may have his own way”.

A leading South African cleric, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, recently prayed for "peaceful and perfect end" for Mandela, who was born in Transkei. What is distressing is the fact that ailing Mandela’s image is being exploited by both the African National Congress and the opposition Democratic Alliance to gain political mileage ahead of elections scheduled in 2014.

The moneymaking schemes launched by his children and grandchildren using his name are disgusting. According to a South African daily, "Mandela’s family are already at each other’s throats over where he should be buried when he dies... Furious family members have lashed out at Mandela`s eldest grandson, Mandla, 39, accusing him of plotting to bury Mandela at Mvezo as part of a grand money-making scheme."

In May 2011, Mandla had caused a stir when he exhumed the remains of Mandela’s two sons, Makgatho and Thembekile, and first daughter Makaziwe, from Qunu, and reburied them in Mvezo, the daily reported.

What an irony! The man whose journey from a prisoner at Robben Island to a civil servant set an example for others and motivated generations, is marred by the ill-wills of his own people.

The opening of clothing line called `Long Walk to Freedom` by Mandela`s daughter and a reality television show called `Being Mandela` starring his granddaughters, Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini, shows how the family of the anti-apartheid hero is bent on earning profits in the name of the man who always claimed to be a servant of the people.

A newspaper even quoted Nelson Mandela’s former lawyer, George Bizos, who acted for him during the Rivonia trial in the 1960s, as saying: "He (Mandela) would be very disappointed that his image is being used or abused in many instances in order to say we are walking along the path that Mandela walked."

Wits University vice-chancellor Adam Habib in Johannesburg rightly said: "I mean, for God sake, this is not Kim Kardashian, this is Nelson Mandela. South Africa as a group in general would like there to be a more dignified behaviour around Madiba, both by the family and by the leaders of the ANC."

Today, Mandela is everywhere; from tiny stone figurines and fridge magnets to chessboards and T-shirts. As the world prays for his swift recovery, there are those who fear that the legacy of Mandela is being manipulated to suit the agenda of others. After all, who has appointed all the profiteers to protect Mandela`s legacy and promote his ideals?