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

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Mandela and the Politics of Representation

Responding to Premesh Lalu ("Nelson Mandela Is Very Much with Us", EPW, 13 July 2013), this article calls for a reassessment of Mandela's legacy, which goes beyond the pre-liberation critique of liberal trusteeship. A reassessment of the nature of the politics of representation and their relation to popular presentation is essential in a postcolonial setting.

Premesh Lalu is absolutely right to draw attention to Nelson Mandela’s contribution to the critique of colonial racism, apartheid and more generally the notion of trusteeship in opposition to the evident monumentalisation of his persona by the post-apartheid state and his deification by the international media. Yet at the same time I feel his account is one-sided. It is one-sided because Mandela himself was an architect – if not the main architect – of the South African post-apartheid state and society in both their objective and subjective features, which Lalu himself wishes to unravel. How one can be a penetrating critic of colonial trusteeship and then manufacture a postcolonial-state trusteeship, whereby resources – physical, social, and intellectual – are “delivered” to the populace as an act of state benevolence albeit regulated and legitimised by notions of “stakeholding”, needs to be addressed in any analysis of the post-apartheid.

Of course the transfer of trusteeship from colonialism to the nation state is not unique to Mandela and is typical of national-liberation movements, so that any understanding of the South African case will have ramifications elsewhere.

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