did, however, manage to get his photo-op with Mandela. A few days
before the opening, the Portugal star dropped by for a visit and posed for this photo that revealed Mandela's current condition. The image should have convinced any gracious FIFA president to respect Mandela's wishes to watch the World Cup from home.
course, the admiration for Mandela is deserved, and it is no wonder
that he continues to inspire. But the Mandela they wanted is a
one-dimensional caricature of the living saint who saved the nation
from certain civil war through a noble commitment to the principle of
non-violence, even despite his own suffering for 27 years as a
political prisoner. This familiar but simplistic portrayal conceals a
more complicated reality of a typically human life marked by
surprisingly reconcilable contradictions. Mandela was in fact the first commander of the armed wing of the African National Congress.
And while he was imprisoned, the apartheid state offered to release him
in the mid-1980s in exchange for renouncing violence in the movement
against apartheid. He refused and remained in prison,
probably assessing that he would have lost legitimacy from the masses
in Soweto and elsewhere who might have seen him as out of touch with
the violent repression they experienced daily in the townships.
speculation about his possible appearance at the opening seemed driven
mainly by the desire of people outside South Africa to see the story
they were looking for. Many South Africans feel that he deserves a
break from a life of pageantry, but there may also be an element of
Mandela fatigue. In South Africa itself, his symbolic power is
increasingly diluted as the ever-expanding iconography has seen him
plastered everywhere--on handbags, clocks, and coasters. The metropolitan region encompassing the city of Port Elizabeth has been rechristened Nelson Mandela Bay. A 20-foot statue of Mandela was erected to celebrate the renaming of an upscale shopping mall in Joburg. A new cookbook thematically organized around Mandela's life story has the excessively clever title, Hunger for Freedom. Even his inmate number, 46664, has been branded as a numeric code for everything from raising money for HIV treatment to a new line of Adidas gear.
is not necessarily unusual that historical icons are simplified,
depoliticized, and stripped of symbolic significance. What is
remarkable about the Mandela mania, however, is that this has all been
happening while he is still alive. There are already calls for public holiday on his birthday--an
act that would normally be reserved until the passing of a national
hero. When that inevitable day does come, it almost seems as if the
only things left to rename in his honor will be the currency or the
The narrative that FIFA was looking for --and indeed that was used to win them over to South Africa for 2010--is a story from a different time. South Africa has moved into a
post-Mandela era, one that is neither profoundly different nor
essentially the same as the old South Africa, especially in terms of
inequality. His successor, Thabo Mbeki, complicated the unchallenged
moral authority that the presidency attained under President Mandela.
Mbeki will be most remembered for his fatally stubborn and failed leadership on AIDS, before he was unceremoniously removed by his own party before completing his second term. The current president, Jacob Zuma, miraculously dodged convictions on both charges of corruption and rape
before taking office last year. The economy has shown decent growth,
but unemployment remains high. Extraordinary levels of racial
inequality persist, but a growing class divide among black South
Africans has meant that some upper-class Africans have seen their
circumstances improve. And a new generation born after the first free
elections in 1994--known here as the "born frees"--is coming of age
without any memory of Mandela as a political prisoner, a liberation hero, or an elected president.