Tuesday, July 31, 2012

African Map An Accident of History

Throughout the history of mankind maps have been used as instruments of power and propaganda to justify occupations and invasions. These seemingly simple lines outlining the physical world on charts are powerful mental constructs that shape the way we think, frame our cultural horizons and define our social boundaries. All territorial misunderstanding and wars between nations are basically conflicts over maps, hence making them some of the most important documents ever designed by man. The over-publicized issue of the tiny Migingo Island in Lake Victoria pitting Kenya and Uganda boiled down to the British colonial map.

Guided by selfish interests and in a bid to avoid a war with each other over Africa, Europeans demarcated the vast continent in the nineteenth century by drawing lines on a blank map, in some cases across places that no white man had ever set foot on the ground. This not only disrupted ethnic groups and undermined indigenous cultural entities and migratory patterns, but also created a room for political exploitation by modern day African leaders. In Zambia politicians Kenneth Kaunda and Fredrick Chiluba used the map in the past to settle political scores by declaring each other non citizens, hence unfit to run for the high office. Driven by an ideology forged and fostered by colonialism, a group of Rwandese ethnic extremists tried to redraw the map of central Africa in 1994 through the blood of a million people.    

During the era of European exploration of Africa mapping new lands gave one the power to lay claim to that particular territory and possibly exclude others. Most apartheid era South African maps, drawn by white supremacists determined to lay more claim to the land, omit the presence of indigenous people and black townships whose populations are sometimes larger than those of adjacent towns. French philosopher Jacques Derrida once defined apartheid as “a system of mapped-out solitudes.” The universal map of the world designed by the sixteenth century cartographer Gerhard Mercator favours Europe and distorts the actual size of Africa.

 This map, though now defunct, depicts the second largest landmass on earth as being the same size as Greenland, which in reality is four times smaller. The Gall-Peters projection which is currently used by many organizations across the globe is no better, hence its description by some geographers as “reminiscent of wet, ragged long winter underwear hung out to dry on the Arctic Circle.”

According to one scholar, all national boundaries are “artificial demarcations by man inspired by accidents of history, the vagaries of geography and the exigencies of economics.” This was even worse for Africa because her borders were hurriedly drawn in one of the biggest “accidents of history” guided by geopolitical, economic and administrative interests of the colonial powers. Groups of people that had no cultural or social similarities were crammed together while those who had long established administrative links were split by the stroke of the pen, mostly based on alien factors.  During the division of Hausaland between today’s Niger and Nigeria the British redrew the border in favour of the French, in exchange for France’s renunciation of fishing rights off the coast of Newfoundland. Subjective generosity by European map makers granted countries like Congo DR and Sudan extensive and uncontrollable territories, while others like Benin, Lesotho and Gambia were squeezed into tiny zones.

To make their mapping work easier colonialists employed the services of military engineers and geographers sent in expeditions to mark borders and territories in difficult and remote terrain. With little or no information on people living in these areas, the explorers used haphazard methodologies to determine frontiers, sometimes separating families, clans and communities in the process. This explains the cultural and linguistic homogeneity of communities living along both sides of national borders throughout Africa.

Appointed to draw the final Uganda-Sudan border in 1912 Captain Harry Kelly, just like his peers elsewhere in the continent, used trivial methods to determine borderlines between human landscapes. “It would be a pity for the Sudan not to get the progressive people of Farajok and Obbo who with their fondness for clothes and such marks of civilization as brass bands would be worth having, but I fail to see at present how we can cut them off from the remaining Acholi,” he writes in one of his diaries.     

With imposed boundaries herding in societies with no social or cultural ties most African nations exist under a cloud of ethnic polarity, tensions and suspicions since communities pledge patriotism and loyalty more to a tribe or region than the state. The few times that semblance of patriotism exhibits is when it’s expressed through selfish xenophobic paranoia, often provoked by euphoric emotions fueled by sports and politics. Tribalism camouflaged in nationalism, later studies has established, was one of the principle forces behind the attacks on foreigners in South Africa in 2008.

Besides creating internally unstable nations the colonial blueprint has also instigated numerous border disputes across the continent, with the Horn being one of the places that have paid the heaviest price in blood. Every nation in this politically volatile region has been involved in a border related conflict either from within or without, drastically redrawing the region’s map in the process.

Eritrea has emerged as a free state while Somalia has been split into three autonomous regions, albeit with no international recognition. A referendum vote is scheduled for January 2011 in Sudan where Southerners are expected to decide whether to remain united with the Khartoum government or to have their own country. The General Election to be held in April is a critical milestone in the formation of the republic of Southern Sudan.

Despite being among the two African countries that were not colonized Ethiopia has had her own share of border problems. After being entangled in a protracted thirty year war with Eritrea in which the tiny red sea nation gained independence, the two neighbours clashed again in 2000 over the border town of Badme. Reports leaked by the media disclosed a “secret” deal between Addis Ababa and Sudanese government officials in 2008, where the former agreed to re-demarcate her border ceding huge tracts of land to Sudan. This caused a huge uproar from Ethiopian activists both within the country and in the Diaspora. The 1600 kilometer common border between the two nations, created through a series of Anglo-Ethiopian treaties and agreements, has historically been the center stage for conflicts between the two countries for more than a hundred years.  

In places where then apparently permanent natural features like rivers were used to decide borders between nations effects of climatic changes is threatening to flare up new conflicts. A case in point is the Uganda-DR Congo border which is partly defined by river Semliki. Flowing from Lake Edward through Semliki National Park in Uganda to Lake Albert the river have greatly varied its volume and course through the years, randomly ceding huge chunks of territory between the two countries in a series of wild give and take. To avert a conflict the two neigbours have formed a committee of surveyors who are redrawing the boundary based on geographical coordinates. 

Frequent bloody skirmishes and deep mistrust in Nigeria between the Christian south and the Muslim north has led some prominent Nigerians proposing the partition of the country into two autonomous states. According to supporters of this argument the two regions’ cultures, languages, religions and even their topographies and climates are starkly different. Pogroms against each other by members of the two dominant faiths have led to thousands of deaths in the last one decade. This year alone violence between Christians and Muslims in central Nigeria’s “middle belt”, a zone which lies along the country’s religious fault line, have claimed more than 500 lives. The latest bloodshed happened in February near the city of Jos where more than 200 people were hacked to death by machete wielding mobs. The war of Biafra in the sixties was one of the earliest manifestations of the religious and ethnic polarity of this British-created West African entity called Nigeria.

While many countries were formed by tying together incompatible groups of people other regions suffered separation and division of a people that had existed as a community for ages. Many Southern and West African countries consist of peoples who share languages, cultures and most were governed by single kingdoms long before the coming of Europeans, hence most can harmoniously exist as one nation. The creation of the tiny kingdom of Lesotho inside South Africa is geographically and culturally illogical. The Bakassi Peninsula is a piece of marshy territory that has been a source of animosity and military aggressions between Nigeria and Cameroon for decades. Despite the fact a huge majority of its inhabitants are Nigerians the International Court of Justice, basing its judgment on past colonial demarcation landmarks and treaties, ceded the peninsula to Cameroon in 2003.

The haphazard manner in which the continent was divided and the numerous conflicts this have brought about have led to radical suggestions of reviewing the African map based on cultural, social and political factors. Scholars and leaders that support this idea say that African Union, instead of dwelling on the Utopian idea of a United States of Africa, should take up this mandate. But besides the AU struggling to sort out simpler matters in Somalia and Darfur its ability to undertake such an onerous task is ruled out by the many resolutions it has adopted pledging to respect and uphold postcolonial frontiers.

 “Since the Berlin creations are not viable, their permanence should be repudiated. The criteria for the creation of new states should include historical factors, especially the demographic contours of Africa’s pre-colonial states and political formations, ethnic similarities and alliances based on cultural homogeneity and economic viability.” Explained Pro. Makau Mutua in an article he wrote in The Boston Globe in the nineties. The idea of redrawing the African map along African lines has also been supported by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The argument that a remedy for most African conflicts lies in redrawing the Berlin map, though it sounds farfetched and unpractical, is worth some consideration rather than instant dismissal. Eighty years after carving the continent into a labyrinth of artificial countries the colonialists left. These casually created entities were pitched onto the international stage as nation states, alongside national symbols like currencies, armies, airlines, government structures and names all handed over by the departing rulers.

These make African nations socially weak and culturally rootless which creates the environment for conflicts. However bloody civil wars in Rwanda and Somalia whose populations are based on single ethnicity and in Liberia and Ethiopia, countries that did not experience colonialism, pokes huge holes on the assumption that the major cause of Africa’s problems lie in the lines cutting across its map.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Young, Black and Superich South Africans

They show up in Mondo suits, Roberto Cavalli shoes, and zoom around in Ferraris, Maserattis, Rolls Royces and Bentleys; Louis Vuitton sunglasses sheltering them from ultra violet radiation and eye contact with ordinary mortals.

Naturally, they throw wild parties where Chivas Regal and Dom Perignon flow in equal measure. No Viceroy please. Only single-malt whiskeys.

They are the new class of young, if not youthful, monied black South Africans.
Favoured by the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program put in place by the African National Congress (ANC) in 1994 to address economic injustices propagated by the white minority rule, these new breed of black bourgeoisie butt no eyelid when it comes to flaunting their new found wealth.

Popularly known as the “buppies” or simply the “BEE men”, their spending sprees and sense of fun easily relegates what goes in the exclusive Nairobi party dens into kindergarten tea parties.

To the BEE men, most between the ages of 25 to 49 according to a study by the University of Cape Town, BMW is an acronym of “black man’s wishes” hence multimillion top-of-the-range sports utility vehicles are their new playthings.

But with all these hedonism thriving against a backdrop of crippling poverty among millions of ordinary black South Africans, some observers and commentators have been quick to compare the situation to George Orwell’s popular satirical novel Animal Farm.

“Literary-minded pessimists may cast the farm as South Africa,” the Guardian wrote. “The tyrannical Mr. Jones as the apartheid government, the noble revolutionary as Nelson Mandela, the deposed and erased snowball as Thabo Mbeki, the scheming ruler Napoleon as Jacob Zuma and the garrulous zealot squealer as Julius Malema”.

A study in November last year by the Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing, an affiliate of the University of Cape Town, found that nearly 40 percent of the country’s richest 10 percent are BEE men. The survey also established that one of the recipes for hitting big money in the new South Africa includes being young, entrepreneurial and some post secondary education.

Kenny Kunene, the flamboyant investor and owner of ZAR chain of nightclubs with outlets in South Africa and Zimbabwe, is one of the perfect embodiments of these loaded Africans with tons of first generation wealth at their disposal.

Born and bred in Kutlwanong Township in the Orange Free State the bible-quoting “Sushi King”, as he is known because of his peculiar obsession with the Japanese delicacy, is a true rags-to-riches fairy tale character that many boys in the townships would die to emulate.

As a statement of his social status the glamour-loving Kunene is said to have thrown a party worth more than R700,000 ( Sh7 million) at one of his exclusive nightclubs in Sandton, the wealthiest suburb in Johannesburg, during his 40th birthday in 2010.

“The party was the definition of bling and debauchery and the guest list itself was a gold-digger’s dream,” the City Press, a local newspaper, reported. “According to the event organizer there were 66 bottles of Dom Perignon, 36 bottles of Cristal and 32 bottles of 18 year-old Chivas Regal. The alcohol alone cost around 500,000 rand (Sh5 million)”.

As a sign of his deep rooted connections in the political class, among the 300 invited guests was former ANC Youth League leader-turned rebel Julius Malema and Zizi Kodwe, President Jacob Zuma’s spokesman

The same publication went on to claim that the hedonistic tycoon who hosts a live bling bling show So What on ETV was served his favourite delicacy of rice and sushi on a young woman’s naked belly during the nocturnal merrymaking.

Kunene’s extravagance attracted the wrath of Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) leader Zwelinzima Vavi, a man perceived by many as the rapidly emerging voice of ANC’s disgruntled supporters.

“It is this spitting in the face of the poor and insulting their integrity that makes me sick,” Vavi said. “I am told at one party sushi was served from the bodies of half-naked ladies. It is the sight of these parties, where the elite display their wealth, often secured by questionable methods, that turns my stomach”.

But the combative Kunene, who served a six-year jail term from 1995 for being a partner in a fraudulent pyramid scheme, hit back at the trade unionist through a venomous open letter published in several South African newspapers.

“During the World Cup you were sitting in elite air-conditioned suites. What were you eating there? What were you drinking...we dint say you were spitting in the faces of the poor,” Kunene taunted. “I want to correct your misapprehension that my party cost R700, 000. It cost more…the next time people are invited to my party, you can go hang or go to hell”.

The irritated millionaire went on to question the morality of Vavi attending the R50 million (Sh500 million) wedding of another BEE billionaire Robert Gumede in Mpumalanga.

Jabulani Ngcobo is considered Durban’s youngest multimillionaire at 27 years old. Donning Roberto Cavalli shoes, Mondo jackets and Louis Vuitton sunglasses and cruising the streets of Durban with his BMW M3 Ngcobo is popularly called Cash Flow by local residents after the stock markets company Cash Flow Pro that he established in 2009.

“There are two kinds of education in this world,” he says. “There is academic education which is guaranteed that you will always work for someone else for the rest of your life, and there is financial education which guarantees you financial freedom”.

Ngcobo’s new money attracted the attention of the South African Police Commercial Crimes Unit who conducted an inquiry on the legality of his offshore investment companies last year.

Although the gap between the rich and the poor in the rainbow nation have grown immensely wide since the fall of apartheid in 1994, the composition of the top end tier has drastically acquired shades of black.

But ownership of big business is still largely in the hands of white with only 4 percent blacks accounting for chief executive officers in Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE)-listed companies.

South African Revenue Service says that almost a million people in the country earns more than R30, 000 (320,000) a month.

A Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing survey classified the country’s wealthy people into three categories.

The “Drivers” that included people worth up to $130,000 (Sh10 million) 50 percent of whom were blacks under the age of 35, the “High Flyers” with a net worth of up to $650,000 (Sh52 million) which contained the majority of the country’s wealthy people and 33 being black and “Astronauts” who were the wealthiest group with members worth more than Sh100 million and 27 percent of them being black.

At the dawn of majority rule in 1994 there were hardly any blacks in the “Drivers” category, with the other two classes being exclusively white.

While most Afrikaner wealth is second generation dating back to 1948 when the Nationalist Party came to power and introduced apartheid, African wealth is first generation with a bulk of it in the hands of people who were born and bred in the squalor of the slums.

Take for instance Robert Gumede, a man born and bred in a humble family of seven children in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga where he once worked as a golf caddy and gardener at Nelspruit Golf Club.

The information technology (IT) mogul’s R50 million (Sh500 million) wedding in March, held in the same golf club where he once toiled as a caddy and gardener, left thousands of tongues wagging across the country and continent.
The glamorous three-day event that took a whole year to plan featured 2500 high profile guests from the country and abroad.

Gumede shot to prominence in 2005 when his IT company Gijima acquired controlling stake at the JSE-listed firm AST to form GijimaAST where he is now the executive chairman.

But like many other BEE millionaires and billionaires, the gardener-turned tycoon’s rapid rise to the economic pinnacle has been questioned, with many pointing a finger at his close connections to ANC Treasurer General Mathews Phosa.

Apart from a multimillion-rand tender Gijima won in 2002 to produce phone cards for Telkom South Africa, the company was also awarded a R2 billion (Sh20 billion) contract in 2007 by the Department of Home Affairs.

Besides having vast interests in IT sector Gumede also has substantial stakes at travel firm Tourvest, Canadian coal-power company CIC Energy and Gauteng Lions rugby club. He is also the chairman of the South African chapter of the South Africa-Russia Business Council.

But Kunene, Ngcobo and Gumede’s financial empires fades into non-entities compared to Patrice Motsepe’s, the tenth richest man in Africa worth $2.7 billion (Sh216 billion) according to the Forbes magazine March 2012 edition.

Born to a school teacher father in the sprawling Soweto Township 50 years ago, Motsepe graduated with a law degree from the University of Witwatersrand in 1994, the same year that ANC came to power and implemented the black empowerment programme.
After working briefly as a legal expert Motsepe established African Rainbow Minerals, since renamed ARMgold, of which he is the current executive chairman.

But while acknowledging him as one of the wealthiest people on the planet, Forbes magazine 2008 edition noted that his achievements were “not through entrepreneurial zeal” but rather because of his close connections to the ruling party.

“A handful of politically connected individuals have grown enormously wealthy…from laws that require substantial black ownership in certain industries, including mining,” the magazine noted. “One of Motsepe’s sisters, Bridgette Radebe, who’s married to transport minister Jeffrey Radebe (now Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development) heads a mining company and is said to be among the wealthiest black women in the country”.

The South African mining magnate also owns Mamelodi Sundowns football club besides being the chairman of Absa Group, Ubuntu-Botho Investments and Sanlam Ltd. He is also the current president of South Africa’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Apart from the BEE “Young Turks”, there are other old guard billionaires who were in the heart of the fight against the white minority rule like Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale.

Ramaphosa was apparently pushed to joining business in 2007 after losing the race to succeed Nelson Mandela to Thabo Mbeki. Worth around $227 million (Sh181.6 billion) according to Forbes in 2011, the former trade unionist is among the richest South Africans with vast interests in energy, mining, real estate and banking sectors.

Although the blatant display of materialism by wealthy blacks is said to be a big motivator for young people in the townships and ghettos to embrace hard work, the failure of the BEE program to create equality and bring progress to the poor majority have been partly blamed for the huge rates of crime and corruption in the rainbow nation.
According to the Johannesburg-based Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, over 1900 serious crimes are reported in South Africa on a daily basis. Among these there 50 are murders, 88 rapes and 431 aggravated assaults.

Class has replaced apartheid making South Africa one of the most economically unequal countries in the world today. Some observers have even gone on to say that the country needs another Nelson Mandela to lead the struggle against the oppression of economic inequalities.

“We are already sitting on a ticking time bomb. The poor are tired of watching and reading about the elite blacks or whites parading wealth,” warned COSATU boss Zwelinzima Vavi during a press conference. “The more we delay intervening the more the risk that one day this poor majority will simply walk to the suburbs to demand the same living standards. No walls will be high enough and no electronic fences will be enough to stop the overwhelming majority”.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mandela: 94th Step Towards Freedom...

In the dawn of the twentieth century a boy was born in the sprawling hills of Mvezo, Eastern Cape Province, Republic of South Africa. Like Jesus Christ, few outside his family noticed his birth. And even among his kin and kith, no one conceptualized the monumental responsibility that providence and destiny has cast upon the infant shoulders in years to come.

He was to be known to the world as Nelson Mandela.

As the world celebrates the anti-apartheid icon’s 94th birthday today many will remember the decades he spent behind bars in the now famous Robben Island prison, forgiving his jailers upon release, the trademark smile, relinquishing power after only one term and his unrelenting campaign against Aids in his retirement.
To his virtuous life, the United Nations General Assembly declared July 18, his birthday, the International Mandela Day which is meant “to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better and, in doing so, build a global movement for good”.

The South African government will mark the occasion with the launch of a project dubbed 94+ Schools Infrastructure Project which aims to make a difference to the lives of children served by at least 94 public schools in South Africa.
“The 94 Schools Project originates in the former President’s strong view on the importance of education, and his world-acclaimed efforts to build an equitable system of education in South Africa,” Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga told the press.

A song composed by a group of 400 people and recorded at the Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg will also be released as part of his birthday celebrations.
Despite constant ill-health, frail and being away from the public limelight since 2002 the legendary South African leader have managed to remain humble and human, forever maintaining his trade mark smile whenever he appears in public.

In his own words, Mandela’s life has been a long and hard walk to freedom which has remained elusive despite being officially released from his long incarceration in 1990. From fighting unscrupulous merchants trying to use his popular name to sell their wares to warding off gangs of western journalists camping outside his home waiting to break the news of his death, Mandela has always been in a constant state of imprisonment.

“In a twist of irony, though, he has remained, in a sense a prisoner,” writes Verne Harris, one of his biographers. “Frequently over the years since his release he has teased visitors and guests with the comment that he is still not free”.
His desire to let the world understand that he is no saint is clearly evident in Conversations With Myself, a book that was compiled in 2010 by Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and Dialogue from his prison diaries, dialogues with close confidants and letters to family and friends.

Writing in the book’s forward, US President Barack Obama notes that “by offering us his journals, letters, speeches, interviews, and other papers from across so many decades…we see him as a scholar and politician; as a family man and friend…Nelson Mandela reminds us that he has not been a perfect man”.

As the American leader observes, in Conversations with Myself the South African statesman sheds the cloak of an icon and the larger than life hero that the world knows to reveal a real mortal contending with daily life struggles.

“In real life we deal, not with gods, but with ordinary humans like ourselves: men and women who are full of contradictions, who are stable and fickle, strong and weak, famous and infamous, people in whose bloodstreams the muckworm battles daily with potent pesticides,” he notes.

This humility and honest self assessment coupled with a candid admissibility of his own shortcomings, a rare trait among African political leaders, made Madiba an efficient mediator and peacemaker long before he gained the prominence of an anti-apartheid icon.

From providing the middle ground in a racial spurt over tea cups in a law office where he worked as a young intern in his early twenties to negotiating a conflict between boxers and their trainer in a local gym in his Orlando neighbourhood in Alexandria, the South African first post-apartheid president was a natural peace maker.

As the first black lawyer to practice in Johannesburg, where he partnered with his long time friend and comrade Oliver Tambo, Mandela would always give his opinion to African couples coming to him to instigate a divorce.

“As a lawyer, when…a man or his wife comes to me to institute divorce action, I always say, “Have you done everything in your power to resolve this problem?”…I have saved marriages in that way”, he says in Conversation With Myself. “I have always tried to bring people together, you know…But I don’t always succeed”.

However, the legendary leader’s ability to diffuse tension and rally the people to a common goal was called upon when anti-apartheid activist Chris Hani was shot dead by a white supremacist in 1993. Although he was just three years out of prison, Mandela was requested by President Fredrick de Klerk to address the nation and calm down the millions of black masses that were baying for white blood.

“Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being…our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster, “Mandela said in a speech that was televised by South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). “Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for-the freedom of all us”.

Although his spirit of resistance was inspired by Oliver Tambo’s stand against a white magistrate in their college days and built over the years he spent working for the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela’s consolidated his reconciliatory leadership skills during his long prison spell.

Despite the warders in Robben Island being a gang of harsh brutes, Madiba’s regular complaints letters and his rapidly rising status across the world implored upon the prison authorities to grudgingly adjust his and fellow inmates’ living conditions. By the time he was released from Victor Verster Prison in 1990, Mandela occupied a spacious bungalow where he could see or communicate with whomever he liked.

“This is the true explanation for the bad treatment we receive in prison-pick and shovel work continuously for the last 5 years, a wretched diet, denial of essential cultural material and the isolation from the world outside jail,” he told the minister of justice in a 1969 letter. “These hardships have been at times been the result of official indifference to our problems, other times they were due to plain persecution. But things have somewhat eased…”

But the brutality of the apartheid regime had greatly dented Mandela’s reconciliatory nature in the early days of the struggle, turning him from a prince of peace to a revolutionary soldier trained in guerilla warfare in the Ethiopian highlands under the patronage of Emperor Haile Selassie.

In Conversations With Myself, Madiba confesses his love for revolutionary literature like Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China, Menechem Begun’s The Revolt and Deneys Reitz’s Commando all of which informed the formation of ANC’s military wing Umhonto we Sizwe (MK).

“World history in general, and that of South Africa in particular, teaches that resort to violence may in certain cases be perfectly legitimate,” he wrote in a letter to the Minister of Justice in 1969. “To have folded arms would have been an act of surrender to a Government of minority rule and a betrayal of our cause”.
Mandela’s revolutionary tendencies were further polished by his love for Greek tragedy and western classics like War and Peace and Antigone in whose stage re-enactments he played key roles in high school and prison. Besides reading Madiba also developed a habit of writing notes and memoirs while in prison, part of which formed the backbone of his world famous autobiography Long Walk To Freedom.

“But a good pen can also remind us of the happiest moments in our lives, bring noble ideas into our dens, our blood and our souls,” he wrote in a letter to her daughter Zindzi in 1980. “It can turn tragedy into hope”.

King Solomon once said that a good name is worth more than tones of gold and silver or, in modern parameters, billions of dollars in the bank. In this regard Nelson Mandela’s lifelong commitment to the struggle against oppression and injustice has endeared him to millions across the world.

This has not been lost to publicity seekers and opportunistic merchants all of whom have tried, and will probably continue trying, to grab a chunk of the lucrative Madiba legacy for their selfish gains. In a bid to stop this tide of greed, Nelson Mandela Foundation hired a team of lawyers to copyright and protect his legacy which included the names “Nelson Mandela”, “Madiba”, “Rolihlahla” as well as his prisoner number 46664.

“We don’t mind a Kennedy-ised Mandela,” one of his lawyers Don MacRobert told The Daily Telegraph back in 2004. “You see Kennedy museums and Kennedy streets all over America, and that’s fine. What we are fighting against is the commercial, profit-making side. We don’t want a Disney-fied Mandela”.

Among all the profiteers, Johannesburg-based artist Yiull Damaso took the exploitation of the apartheid icon’s legacy to a whole new level when he depicted the elderly statesman as a corpse on an autopsy table. The piece was a parody of the famous 17th-century masterpiece The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Dutch painter Rembrandt.

In what many critics termed a desperate and sensationalist move to attract attention, the artist substituted the original characters with renowned personalities in South African society.

In the unfinished painting that was displayed in Johannesburg’s Hyde Park shopping centre in 2010 Nkosi Johnson, an Aids activist who died aged 12, takes the place of the surgeon with a pair of scissors in the original painting. The dead Mandela substitutes the naked cadaver, which historians agrees must have been a criminal since they were the only people allowed to be autopsied at the time the original was done.

While Rembrandt included doctors as spectators, Damaso’s version boasts of celebrity onlookers that includes South African President Jacob Zuma, retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, past heads of state Thabo Mbeki and FW de Klerk and Democratic Alliance party leader and Premier of the Western Cape Hellen Zille.

Damaso, who had landed in trouble a few years earlier for another depiction of Mandela in dreadlocks, was defiant and unapologetic.

“The eventual passing of Mr. Mandela is something that we will have to face…as individuals, as a nation,” he explained. “They told me that his image was copyrighted. But how can you copyright the image of a public figure?”
But artists have not been the only culprits in the quest to grab a piece of the Mandela legacy.

A visit to any library or bookshop reveals numerous books displaying either the face or name of the South African icon, almost all of which are not commissioned since his authorized biographer Anthony Sampson died in 2004.

The clamour to drag Mandela’s name in books, probably to attract sales, has not been a preserve of obscure fame seeking writers alone. In his book called Straight Speaking for Africa (Africa World Press, 2009), Congo-Brazzaville President Denis Sassou-Nguesso is said to have falsely claimed that Madiba wrote the foreword, which describes the Central African despot who came to power after winning a bloody civil war “as one of our great African leaders”.

Over the last 60 years that he has been in the public limelight the old man has created a powerful brand image. Although experts say it’s not possible to place a realistic commercial value, the iconic leaders brand equity is enormous.

“Assuming he (Madiba) was a commercial entity,” MacRoberts told the BBC in 2005, “you could rank him alongside Coca Cola and Microsoft”.

According to Interbrand Corporation’s 2011 table of the world’s most valuable brands Coca Cola, the world’s number one brand, was worth more than $71.9 million (Sh6.0billion).

South African politicians have also tried to exploit the Mandela legacy in a bid to boost their political fortunes. Besides being dragged by his grandson Mandla to ANC political rallies in the last general elections against the doctors’ advice, opposition Congress of the People (COPE) drew an outrage after claiming that Mandela had voted against his old party in the last national polls.