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Following in the footsteps of Madiba

To any foreigner living under a rock for the better part of the last century, the role Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has played in this country’s history will become clear rather quickly when speaking to a South African citizen – who will most likely refer to him as “The father of our nation”, “Madiba” or ‘tata” – indicating the love, respect and awe with which the country remembers our first democratic president. As South Africans, who are still figuring out how to put all the pieces of our nation back together, it is easy for us to view the amazing life of Nelson Mandela as an exclusively personal story – and we often disregard the massive impact his legacy has had on humanity as a whole.

The global impact of his legacy was once again made clear this past week when our current president Cyril Ramaphosa, gifted a 1.9m statue toe the UN headquarters in New York to serve as “a constant reminder to the international community of the dedication of Nelson Mandela to the mission of the United Nations”. But this got me thinking about monuments to Madiba – sure we know about the large number of artworks, installations, statues and sculptures inside of our own country – but where else could we find physical manifestations of Madiba’s global legacy.

America may have just received another Madiba tribute to accompany an existing statue they have in Washington D.C., but their northern neighbours imortalised his legacy by naming Nelson Mandela Park Public School in Toronto after the icon. Joining countries such as Germany, UK, Sierra Leone and Kenya in having named schools after him.

On August 29 2007, Madiba himself was on hand to personally accept the honour when the British government unveiled a now famous statue of the statesmen in Parliament Square in their capital. The 2.7m tall statue depicting the leader in the middle of a passionate speech faces the British parliament directly.

In 2013, the nomadic artist Phil Akashi decide to create what, to this day remains, one of the most striking tributes to Madiba. Drawing on Madiba’s fascination with boxing for inspiration, Akashi donned a boxing glove and used it to repeatedly stamp the Chinese symbol “自由 “ (meaning freedom) onto a Shanghai wall. Throwing more than 27 000 punches at this wall – he eventually stood before what has to be one of the most authentic Madiba inspired artworks.

All over the world, governments, NGO’s and artists have created countless tributes to Madiba, but with his legacy serving as an example of the monumental positive change one individual can create, I don’t expect the tributes to stop pouring in any time soon.


JM Henning – Weekdays 5am – 6am Saturdays 7am – 10am Anchor, Smile 90.4FM