On this day

In 1996, Nelson Mandela promulgated the new Constitution of South Africa. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Ten years after Mandela’s death: SA grapples with ‘Mandela-mania’

In the decade since Nelson Mandela’s passing, South Africa finds itself at a crossroads, questioning the enduring grip of “Mandela-mania.

On this day

In 1996, Nelson Mandela promulgated the new Constitution of South Africa. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Ten years after the death of Nelson Mandela, the fabled destroyer of apartheid remains a global icon, but in South Africa some say it is time to end Mandela-mania.

A nine-metre tall (30-foot) statue of Mandela, his arms outstretched, watches over Pretoria from the Union Buildings government headquarters.

There are at least 50 other major statues, busts and murals devoted to him in South Africa and around the world, from London to the occupied West Bank, according to the Mandela Foundation.

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Mandela, who died on December 5, 2013, is featured on national banknotes and his “Long Walk To Freedom” autobiography remains one of the best-selling books worldwide of all time.

Robben Island, Mandela’s jail for 27 years, is among South Africa’s top tourist attractions.

The standing of the political giant, widely known by his clan name of “Madiba”, is so great that many people watching the sorry state of South Africa’s economy and politics ask “what would ‘Madiba’ think if he were still here.”

Would events have been different?

Spurring South Africans to move on, the foundation on Friday opened an anniversary exhibition called simply and soberly “Mandela is Dead”.

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‘Destructive energy’

Any country with such a strong figure suffers for many years after the personality is gone from the “deep nostalgia and this hanging on to that symbol,” said Verne Harris, the late president’s archivist and acting president of the Mandela Foundation.

“What we are saying in this exhibition, is that maybe that becomes a destructive energy. Maybe we need to let him go. And look for new role models.”

The exhibition presentation highlights “the weight of the loss we suffered” with Mandela’s death.

As part of its efforts to help “process this grief”, it features interactive displays that encourage visitors to say what they think about Mandela’s heritage.

Message boards were put up at two universities for comments. Some of the responses are startling and highlight divisions over Mandela’s legacy.

Left-wing parties and many youth say the late leader should have done more to dismantle the effects of apartheid’s nearly five decades of institutionalised discrimination by the white minority that tore apart society.

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“His legacy has done nothing but keep the poor poor and the rich rich, freedom is not free,” said one, written at a university in Braamfontein in Johannesburg.

“If everybody doesn’t strive to bring the dream of a truly free and progressive South Africa to life, then that dream dies with Mandela,” added another.

“So many of his dreams remain unfulfilled by his comrades,” said a third.

“We encourage discourse,” said Foundation spokesman Morongwa Phukubye. “We debate his legacy. His legacy isn’t one of a saint.”

‘Sellout’ or saint

Harris said foundation representatives who go to South African townships and schools pick up varied reactions.

“We encounter narratives like ‘Mandela was a sellout and that’s why we’re in so much trouble today’,” said Harris.

Or, it can be “Madiba was a great leader and it’s a pity that his successors have been so poor.’ ‘If only Madiba had been younger when he came out of prison, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten to the mess that we have’.”

Harris took part in the truth and reconciliation commission created to look into the worst apartheid human rights violations.

He started working on Mandela’s papers in 2001, and over the years became close to the figurehead and his work on the Memory Centre that is now the foundation headquarters.

Harris said he felt “deeply ambivalent” about the anniversary.

“On the one hand, I remember so strongly in the last five years of his life, thinking I just wish he would let go because I could see his life was becoming a burden to him.

“It’s a hard thing to say, almost a relief. But on the other hand, I still feel not really nostalgia, it’s more inspiration.”

Harris said the most important lesson he learned from Mandela is that “hope is not enough”.

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“We need a deep belief that even if the future is worse than the present we still have to keep fighting, keep doing what needs to be done. So you endure. That keeps me going a lot.”

© Agence France-Presse