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S. Africa: 'Mandela is Dead' exhibit opens in Johannesburg

A woman wearing a mask walks past a mural of former South Africa's president Nelson Mandela, in Katlehong, east of Johannesburg, South Africa. 29/05/2022   -  
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Themba Hadebe/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.

South Africa

A decade on from the death of Nelson Mandela, an anniversary exhibition entitled "Mandela is Dead" was opened on Friday in Johannesburg by the Mandela Foundation.

Around the world, Nelson Mandela remains an icon, famed for his destruction of South Africa's apartheid system in the 1990s. 

Now, some South Africans are questioning his legacy and whether it is time to move on from nostalgia.

"Mandela is Dead"

Amidst economic and political difficulties in the country today, many people ask "what would 'Madiba' [Mandela] think if he were still here?".

To respond to this question and the differing views on the leader's legacy, the Mandela Foundation's exhibition invites South Africans to express their thoughts through interactive displays. 

Any country with such a strong figure suffers for many years after the personality is gone from the "deep nostalgia and this hanging on to that symbol," said Verne Harris, the late president's archivist and acting president of the Mandela Foundation.

"What we are saying in this exhibition, is that maybe that becomes a destructive energy. Maybe we need to let him go. And look for new role models."

The exhibition highlights "the weight of the loss we suffered" with Mandela's death.

Differing views

"We encourage discourse," said Foundation spokesman Morongwa Phukubye. "We debate his legacy. His legacy isn't one of a saint."

Message boards were put up at two universities for comments. Some of the responses are startling and highlight divisions over Mandela's legacy.

Left-wing parties and many youth say the late leader should have done more to dismantle the effects of apartheid's nearly five decades of institutionalised discrimination by the white minority that tore apart society.

"His legacy has done nothing but keep the poor poor and the rich rich, freedom is not free," said one, written at a university in Braamfontein in Johannesburg.

"If everybody doesn't strive to bring the dream of a truly free and progressive South Africa to life, then that dream dies with Mandela," added another.

"So many of his dreams remain unfulfilled by his comrades," said a third.

South Africa's future

Harris said foundation representatives who go to South African townships and schools pick up varied reactions.

"We encounter narratives like 'Mandela was a sellout and that's why we're in so much trouble today'," said Harris. Or, it can be "Madiba was a great leader and it's a pity that his successors have been so poor.' '

As the country approaches its 30 year anniversary of the end of apartheid, Harris says most important lesson he learned from Mandela is that "hope is not enough".

"We need a deep belief that even if the future is worse than the present we still have to keep fighting, keep doing what needs to be done. So you endure. That keeps me going a lot."

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