The First Monday Forum on July 2018: Nelson Mandela Centennial, featured a panel of speakers: Dr. Bob Wekesa from the department of journalism and mass studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; Ron Nixon, the Homeland Security correspondent for The New York Times and author of, Selling Apartheid: South Africa’s Global Propaganda War; Dr. Nicholas Cull, a professor of public diplomacy at the University of Southern California; with opening remarks from Thilivhali Ratshitanga, a political counsellor at the Embassy of South Africa in Washington D.C.
Wekesa introduced Mandela’s role as a global citizen. Mandela acted not only as a figure of anti-apartheid in South Africa, but also as an advocate for international development and peace around the world.
Nixon elaborated by discussing the degree of myth that surrounds the life of Mandela and the influence going to prison had on his political career. Nixon discussed how the identifiable victim effect made Mandela the face of suffering for all South African committed to anti-apartheid.
Cull focused on other important birthday’s Mandala celebrated during his life, and the use of birthdays to advocate for action in the campaign against apartheid. He also noted how the presence and or absence of Mandela’s image was used in advocacy. Mandela himself was aware of the power of his image and proceeded accordingly.
Mandela’s legitimacy as a leader and highest elected official in South Africa came in multiple forms. Mandela had cultural legitimacy in South Africa. He was also born into clan Madiba, as a member of the royal family of the Xhosa nation. He was also educated, receiving both a bachelor’s degree and a law degree. He and his law partner campaigned against apartheid, leading to Mandela’s first arrest for treason. Mandela was an avid supporter of the African National Congress and was sentenced to life during the 1960’s; he served 27 years before being released and elected the first black president of South Africa in 1994.
Nelson Mandela had an unquestionably great impact on the world during his lifetime. Even in death his legacy of social justice and peace has continued.
Hunter B. Martin is the 2018-2019 Fellow for the Public Diplomacy Council. She is a graduate student at American University studying Global Media. Her future plans include advocacy for the preservation of cultural heritage sights and amplifying the voices of marginalized people around the world. You can read more of Hunter’s work at hunterbmartin.com.