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Mandela: A revered icon in South Africa

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A file photo taken on May 22, 2004 shows former South African President Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel smiling to photographers

A file photo taken on May 22, 2004 shows former South African President Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel smiling to photographers as they arrive at Madrid's Almudena Cathedral to attend the Spanish Crown Prince's wedding. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU 

By BENON HERBERT OLUKA

Posted  Friday, December 6  2013 at  11:33
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Late last year, when the South African government launched a new series of bank notes that bear the image of Nelson Mandela, the country’s anti-apartheid icon and former president, President Jacob Zuma said printing Mr Mandela’s image on a banknote was “a humble gesture” to express South Africa’s“deep gratitude” to man who had dedicated the vast majority of his life to the service of his people and country.

The passing of Mr Mandela means putting his image on South Africa’s currency was the last major opportunity for South Africans to show a sense of gratitude to a revered leader during his lifetime. If naming places and objects after Mr Mandela was one of the most enduring forms of ‘thank you’, then South Africa and the rest of the world has offered Mr Mandela acres of love.

Few public figures are as glorified as Mr Mandela is in South Africa and, arguably, around the world. In South Africa, his name and images are almost everywhere, although, unlike in the cases of African presidents of a bygone era, he did not impose it on the country.

If you have been to South Africa, then you might have gone shopping at the Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg’s Sandton City, which was renamed following the unveiling of a six-metre bronze statue of the anti-apartheid icon.

On the way from Sandton to the Johannesburg central business district, you could have passed through the 284-metre Nelson Mandela Bridge, which crosses over 40 railways lines links Braamfontein to Newtown.

In Braamfontein, you can watch a performance at the Nelson Mandela Theatre, the biggest of the three theatres that form the Johannesburg Civic Theatre. The Mandela Theatre sits 1,061 people and is reportedly one of the most sought after theatres in South Africa, especially by overseas production companies.

According to ABC, it is dim inside; the air-conditioner keeps the fresh air coming and the comfortable red chairs bring dignity to the place. Its stage covers 400 square metres.

Drive further to Soweto, the township that was a hotbed of the anti-apartheid struggle that Mr Mandela led and you will find the Mandela Family Museum, which is adjacent to the Mandela Family Restaurant. The Mandela Museum, which comprises four rooms and contains memorabilia, paintings and photographs of the Mandela family, is located on 8115 Vilakazi Street, famously known as the first street in the world to produce two Nobel Peace Prize winners (Mr Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu).

“The matchbox home [in Soweto] was Mandela's first house,” notes SABC.“He moved there with his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, in 1946. After their divorce in 1957, she moved out. When Mandela married Winnie Madikizela in 1958, she joined him at the Soweto home. However, during the ensuing years, when his life as a freedom fighter was all-consuming, Mandela seldom stayed there. Madikizela-Mandela continued to live in the tiny house with her two daughters, Zeni and Zindzi, while Mandela was in jail. The house was petrol-bombed and set alight several times during this period.”

However, Johannesburg is not the only city to honour Mr Mandela. In fact, if Johannesburg decided to name only particular features after Mr Mandela, one part of South Africa went even much further. That is Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality in the Eastern Cape Province, the only metropolitan area that was allowed by the former president to bear his name. Nelson Mandela Bay comprises the towns of Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Dispatch.

In Port Elizabeth, there is the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, which was formerly called the King George VI Art Gallery. According to SABC, the Museum was opened in June 1956 but renamed in December 2002. “The collections are housed in two buildings framing the entrance to St George's Park and consist of South African art (particularly that of the Eastern Cape), British art, international printmaking and Oriental art (including Indian miniatures and Chinese textiles),” notes SABC.

The Eastern Cape Province is also home to the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium, which was constructed for $159 million ahead of the 2010 World Cup and sits 48,000 people. The Mandela Stadium hosted eight games during the 2010 World Cup.

Besides the stadium, Mr Mandela also receives recognition in sports in the form of the Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup, which was launched in 1994 and is played annually between the South African national football side, Bafana Bafana, and a select national team.

There are also two South Africa universities that bear Mr Mandela’s name. The first is the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, which was opened in January 2005 after a merger of the PE Technikon, the University of Port Elizabeth and the Port Elizabeth campus of Vista University. The other is the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine in Durban, which Mr Mandela agreed to offer his name on its 50th anniversary.

In August 2011, the South African government and sculptor unveiled a gigantic sculpture of Mr Mandela at Howick, to mark 50 years since he was arrested on August 5, 1962. That arrest of course led to his imprisonment in Robben Island, another internationally recognised site that is synonymous with the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

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