Home / Sezioni / alter / Mandela, icon

facebook-link twitter-link


Registrati alla newsletter di sbilanciamoci.info


Ultimi link in questa sezione

Violence in and by Paris: any way out?
Violence in and by Paris: any way out?
Volkswagen deserves its day in criminal court
La lezione di Solone, che Schaeuble non ha imparato
Α hundred researchers from the European University Institute express solidarity with the Greek People
Actually existing Europe
Maledetto lavoro

Mandela, icon


he name Nelson Mandela and the word icon are once again on people’s lips, as if spoken in the same breath. With the sad news last week that the nonagenarian former South African president Nelson Mandela has died, his name is again in the air, and with his name the obligatory tag. Mandela the icon of freedom, of liberation, of justice; the hero of the world, to quote Barack Obama; Mandela the symbol of non-racialism, people gravely say, thinking, if they are of a certain age, probably over thirty-five or so, of his long walk to freedom, or the Special AKA song-refrain ‘free-free-free Nelson Mandela’; if they are younger, of a moral giant who fought racism some time last century. Cutting straight to the point, many simply use the word icon tout court when speaking of him. Ah yes, Nelson Mandela, they say, what an icon. That incredible man, that icon.

Mandela the icon. The name Mandela as a synonym for icons. It is an interesting locution, one that of course reflects our time’s obsession with celebrity, with individuals who in some sense embody the fame or glamour attached to their name. But it is an interesting locution, too, in respect of the man and the leader Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela himself, of his long political career and world-renowned reputation. There are perhaps few other political leaders who in their life-time have attained as he did the uncontroversial status or the easy recognisability of the media icon. Though MK Gandhi comes close, it is difficult to think of Gandhi being hailed as ‘President of the World’ as Mandela was in 2007 on the unveiling of his statue in Westminster Square. At the time Mandela stepped down from power in 1999 the talk at least in his country South Africa was that the international currency of his face as icon was surpassed only by Coca-Cola’s red logo and the golden arches of McDonalds. He was, in a sense, an icon of icons, a hyper-symbol, as is captured in the huge variety of merchandise ranging from fridge-magnets to aprons, from dolls to mugs, which is available in tourist shops not only in South Africa, but across the African continent, bearing the image of his smiling face.


Yet an icon, especially one so prevalent, is by and large a static and 2-D entity. ‘Mandela the icon’ tells us little to nothing of Nelson Mandela’s remarkable story: his in many ways complicated political legacy, his radiant magic as a leader, and his strength of character in surviving 27.5 years of incarceration. It tells us nothing of his remarkable success in bridging seemingly unbridgeable racial divides in South Africa by forging bonds of reconciliation that many at the time, and since, have found next to miraculous. Icon is an end-product word that gives little sense of the painstaking process of building a mass movement and at the same time forging a new national community that was Nelson Mandela’s great achievement.

Read more