Mandela is, in some ways the perfect embodiment of post colonial Africa, a continent blessed with so many possibilities but consistently producing so much disappointment.
The African dream of liberation has become a long nightmare.
As Mandela turns 90 the country he helped found some 14 years ago is in a mighty mess.
Its hatred of black people has reached the apex with the mass slaughtering and displacement of black Africans (apparently a good 20 or more of the more than 60 dead are South Africans).
Post 1994, has been much celebrated for the benefits it bestowed upon a few, silence has befallen the fate of the black majority which has been bequeathed a bestial existence.
Mandela’s 85th birthday was a Coca Cola affair. The multinational corporation was given full rights to throw a party for our founding father. Coke milked his name dry, everything was branded, serviettes to programme - the whole affair was televised live.
This forced a friend to remark that we need another “Free Nelson Mandela Campaign.”
At 90 Mandela must be allowed his well deserved rest.
But it’s hard to think of this likable man of the 20th century Africa outside politics. He is resistance, Robben Island, freedom, magnanimity, compromise and hope for many, but what is his real legacy?
A few years ago Chinweizu wondered loudly about the icon of liberation who voluntarily builds his house as a replica of the prison house he was kept in during the last days towards his release.
Who would build a prison for a house? Our Mandela is a symbol, like his country, of things shiny and good and things horrendous.
Prof. Wole Soyinka was moved to comment on the “soulless truly horrendous” sculpture of Mandela which presides over the Mandela Square in Sandton our Mecca of consumption, which lives cheek by jowl with the sprawling Alexandra township.
Sandton feeds on the blood of Alexandra, the place from which the recent spate of Negrophobic attacks emanates.
Cornel West firstly praised Mandela as a the Socratic spirit of “going against the grain”, then on reflection from the distance of the USA he warned against the “Santa Clausification of Mandela - Big smile, domesticated, tamed, defanged with toys in a bag.”
At 90 Mandela is all these things; but more, he is the African dream that never became. His 90th bash was held in London, what the official website says is his second home.
Images of Toussaint Louverture perishing in the loving embrace of his friend Napoleon Bonaparte flash by. Now we wait for Barak Obama to conclude a circle started in 1994 in South Africa - White Supremacy today needs a little melanin too. Black suicide is endemic, 1803 it was Haiti, 1994 South Africa, and maybe 2008 December the USA.
*Andile Mngxitama is a Johannesburg based land rights activist and member of the We write editorial collective.