ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Nelson Mandela Is Very Much with Us

The illness of Nelson Mandela has been turned, by South Africa's media and politicians, into a spectacle of his "macabrely anticipated absence". In such a context, a historian and anti-apartheid activist underlines the rich legacy of Mandela's intellectual and political ideas and their continued relevance in the ongoing struggle for a just South Africa.

If one believes media reports, Nelson Mandela is no longer with us. Yet, in more ways than one, he is. In the midst of the frenzy of sound bytes and images that now circulate through the space left by his macabrely anticipated absence, there is danger that Mandela will be honoured, even monumentalised, but not meaningfully remembered. Part of the problem it seems is that the anti-apartheid struggle to which Mandela contributed so substantially has been recalled as an event, as a passing phase, not a sustained development of a thought that opened onto a concept of the post-apartheid.

Thankfully, Mandela is not yet and not quite comparable to a Mahatma, not at least in the shape that Shahid Amin (1984) recalls in the figure of Gandhi with his saintly aura. Thankfully so too, in part because such a status would not be a product of a subaltern imaginary in South Africa, but of the mediated neoliberal imagery that gives you a quick fix. Rather than seek out Saint Mandela, we would do better to pay tribute to his legacy of dedicated struggle against apartheid by placing his thinking in a longer genealogy of anti-apartheid thought.

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