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Amidst outrage, South Africa confronts Mandela’s mortality

April 30th, 2013
06:49 PM ET

By Samuel Burke, CNN

Each time Nelson Mandela enters the hospital, the whole world holds its breath – fearing the worst.

Mandela hadn’t been seen in public since his latest brush with ill health last month. But now he's emerged in pictures taken at his home on Monday, flanked by current leaders of his African National Congress party, including South African President Jacob

Rather than comforting, though, the pictures have sparked outrage on social media in the Rainbow Nation.

Zuma and the other leaders are accused of exploiting the ailing leader, putting a frail and uncomfortable 94-year old on public display.

The incident comes on top of Mandela's own family mining his legacy. His granddaughters appear in a reality show called "Being Mandela," in which the family shows the business of Mandela-branded wines and clothing lines.

Eusebius McKaiser is a South African political analyst and an expert in moral philosophy, and he says neither the photos of Mandela nor the outrage surprise him.

“It's what politicians do the world over. They try and tap into brands that are popular and the reality is that brand Nelson Mandela is a powerful global brand. It's right up there with Coca-Cola. It's as familiar as the Red Cross signature,” McKaiser told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday. “The backlash is justified, because we all want Nelson Mandela's image to be politically virtuous.”

The Mandela brand will continue long after Mandela does pass, McKaiser believes.

But part of the backlash has nothing to do with the ANC party, McKaiser told Amanpour. Bur rather, it has to do with South Africans wanting Nelson Mandela to be immortal.

“I think the imagery was a shock to our psyche because many of us did not want to see evidence of our worst fear. And our worst fear is evidence that Nelson Mandela is merely mortal,” McKaiser. “But at the moment, all the attention is focused on the political opportunism - and rightly so.”

There has also been backlash on social media against some of the Mandela family members engaged in the "Being Mandela" reality show.

“The difference is that when people capitalize on brand names the world over, they don't capitalize on brand Nelson Mandela. And so for better or worse, the family members of Nelson Mandela have inherited the brand name that, unfortunately, is imbued with political virtue. And when you commercialize political virtue, of course, you're going to be susceptible to criticism the world over."

McKaiser believes the commercialization of Mandela deserves the scorn that it has received.

“In the final days of Nelson Mandela's bodily existence, his family should be dignified because that is what his legacy demands. And so I think the public outcry in relation to the family infighting is entirely appropriate.”

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soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Dr. Hassan Mohamed

    Mandela embodies the honour of South Africa. He is the symbol of the natinal struggule against apartheid for generations. Abusing his name could harm his image for years to come. So, it is the duty of his family and of the free people in Africa to honour his memory and his name by linking it to the great values of the country and the whole Continent .

    April 30, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Reply
  2. The Thinker1958

    sadly science has a way to keep a person alive for an extended period of time and of course is going to show people in a very fragile state. I'm sure South Africans don't think Mandela was going to live forever. Maybe they are sad he doesn't look good and feel sorry for him.

    April 30, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Reply
  3. Francis mwanzia

    I am 53 yrs now and in 1970,s every one on earth use to follow mandelas story and we were warried that he could die in prison. S. African government should give him the best chance to rest by giving him what he loves most eg talking to granddoughters and sons

    May 1, 2013 at 2:56 am | Reply
  4. Lionel Noik

    I believe that Nelson Mandela should be respected for his desire and right to privacy. This should apply not only to South Africans in general, but also to the ANC government. To use him as a pawn in a greater political scheme is in my opinion disgraceful. I believe that the recent photograph of Mr Mandela speaks volumes of his innermost feelings.
    One can recall the incident where an extremely frail man was hoisted onto a stage in cold weather merely to endorse the world cup event. I felt that similar to the present issue, such a spectacle was cruel and demeaning to Mr Mandela. To use him as a "Brand" name to promote political ideals is both unacceptable and reflects a lack of sensitivity and respect on the part of the ANC government

    May 1, 2013 at 7:03 am | Reply

    If the s.african government really wants this world's best hero to long again,they should allowe him to enjoy those things he love most,that's complete rest.children.grandchildren and so on.and stop doing what will put his mind in comflict.Thank you.

    May 1, 2013 at 9:04 am | Reply
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