Columns 7.6.2018 12:48 pm

Let’s just call it all ‘Mandeland’ and get it over with

The cover art to A Poet's Guide to Mandeland, a collection of poems recited by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. Cover design by Sara Martinez.

The cover art to A Poet's Guide to Mandeland, a collection of poems recited by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. Cover design by Sara Martinez.

It’s way too easy to name everything after Mandela. It’s the path of least resistance, and therefore the most meaningless.

It seems inevitable that Cape Town International Airport will be renamed after the late, great Nelson Mandela – simply because that’s what the ANC seems to want.

As a bonus to them, it will probably annoy the EFF, who have been pushing hard to have that collection of runways and terminals named after Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

As fantastic a figure as Madiba surely was, I have my doubts that South Africa is being in any way enriched by having yet another thing named after him. I also doubt that Mandela would have wanted to become the equivalent of a Pick n Pay no-name brand – a near-generic label you stick on everything from milk to light bulbs. Mandela himself went to great lengths in interviews to point out that he wasn’t the only person in the struggle, that he didn’t liberate millions of people single-handedly and was, in fact, rather embarrassed by all the fuss.

Sure, I know all of that was part of a carefully constructed public persona and the Madiba we came to love was in fact a deeply complex and flawed character who, like the rest of us, was motivated by ego and pride, but I nevertheless refuse to believe he wanted to be sanctified and deified to the extent that we have gone.

Since the death of his second wife, Winnie, we were also reminded that she was never given nearly enough credit for her contribution and self-sacrifice – which is the main reason the EFF is so keen on having the airport named after her. But the ANC often betrayed Winnie during her life, and they’re likely to keep doing that into her afterlife.

The issue of her aside, though, it’s just way too easy to name everything after Mandela. It’s the path of least resistance, and therefore the most meaningless.

We know that very few individuals and groups in this country are likely to oppose his name strongly, because nobody wants to be “that guy” who is “against Nelson Mandela”. And the ANC is – perhaps somewhat cynically – using the Mandela legacy to reconnect with its disenchanted voter base in this “Year of Nelson Mandela” in the hope that it can get itself back to the lofty heights of support it enjoyed when Mandela handed the mantle to Thabo Mbeki in 1999.

We already have Mandela on our money; street names, squares, shopping centres, a whole metropolitan area, wines, and lord only knows what else are already named after him. We may as well just get it over with, and name the whole country after the man. How does “Mandeland” sound to you?

If we’re going to go to all the trouble and expense of renaming things in 2018, it should surely be seen as an opportunity to pay tribute to some of our lesser-known heroes, or even aspects of history that deserve to be remembered even if, in doing so, we honour a minority or someone who isn’t from the ANC-approved archives of history.

And for the love of dimorphism, people, can we at least just name a few of our big, important things after women?

As a side note, I don’t often find myself agreeing with Julius Malema, but he had a point on Africa Day when he said that “South Africa” isn’t really a name. It’s just a lazy signifier of our general place on the world map. Because the colonists couldn’t bother with a real name, we today have to distinguish South Africa from the rest of “southern Africa”, while the regions of West Africa, North Africa and East Africa don’t have that problem because they comprise of countries with actual names – many of them most appealing and evocative. Who doesn’t think names like Cameroon, Ghana or Nigeria have a nice ring to them?

Kenya is such a lovely name that a friend of mine named his daughter after the country a few years ago.

Sadly, the horse has probably long bolted on the chance to christen this godawful country properly – but quite honestly I could live with the pan-Africanist name “Azania”. I can see myself, as a proud Azanian, telling people where I come from. And the fact that it would truly annoy all the racists would simply be a fantastic bonus.

But …  let’s not even go down that road, because we know the ANC would probably just end up renaming South Africa Mandeland.

Citizen digital editor Charles Cilliers

 

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