JOHANNESBURG: South Africans celebrated Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday on Wednesday with giant cakes, mass renditions of “Happy Birthday” and 67 minutes of good deeds – one for each year of the anti-apartheid leader’s struggle against white-minority rule.
But beyond the mawkish tributes to South Africa’s first black president, the day revealed the unseemly scramble among companies, politicians and charities for a slice of the reflected glory of “Madiba”, the clan name by which he is affectionately known.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) released a 1,450 word eulogy to its totemic former leader, exhorting the country’s 50 million people to “continue the build the South Africa of Madiba’s dreams”.
Yet only last week, anti-apartheid heroine and Mandela ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was accusing the ANC in a leaked letter of “shabby treatment” of the family and wanting to wheel them out only “when we have to be used for some agenda”.
The “67 minutes” Mandela Day charity push has also re-opened old wounds amid criticism it is merely a vehicle for whites and the newly rich black elite to assuage the guilt of living at the top of what remains one of the most unequal societies, even 18 years after the end of apartheid.
Leading the charge was Luther Lebelo, head of an ANC branch in Johannesburg, who wrote an article in the Sowetan newspaper suggesting the day was about “little cosmetic charity activities” that only served to perpetuate class divisions.
The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, as the official guardians of his image are known, hit back in the same paper, taking particular exception to Lebelo’s reference to the “so-called Mandela Foundation”.
The jibe reflects a view widely held among South Africa’s overwhelming black majority that whites have managed to co-opt Mandela and his image since the first all-race elections in 1994. (Reuters)