The making of the Mandela myth

Van Heerden, Deon (Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University, 2012-03)

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Nelson Mandela stands as one of the most powerful symbolic figures of the past century, embodying notions of freedom, peace, racial reconciliation and the struggle against tyranny. As largely uncontested as this image is today, its constitution has by no means been uncomplicated. Before he was incarcerated on Robben Island, Mandela was viewed as a young, militant firebrand within the ANC-led liberation movement, an image which was counterpointed by his patrician lineage, education and professional success as a lawyer. His highly visible embodiment of this complex identity served to elevate him not only to the top of the black Johannesburg social hierarchy, but to the forefront of the liberation struggle. The state-sanctioned view of him was, by contrast, as a terrorist, agitating for the destruction of the state. During his imprisonment on Robben Island, the government sought to entirely expunge his words and likeness from active circulation, which ironically facilitated the process of myth-making around him. After his release from prison, Mandela largely succeeded in claiming agency over his image – the one which still persists in the international public imagination – facilitated in large part by the publication of his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, and the numerous acts of reconciliation and diplomacy which he undertook. In writing this thesis, I have sought to trace the process of mythmaking around Mandela, questioning how the disparate, and often contradictory, ideas around him have been narrativised and incorporated into the mythical figure we are familiar with today, both by him and others. I have divided the narrative construction of Mandela into two broad epochs: the ―dominant‖ narrative, which developed from his entry into politics until his release from prison in 1990, and the ―official‖ narrative, which developed from his release from prison. I seek to illustrate the processes by which the dominant narrative was constituted, and how this narrative construct gained increasing ideological currency during his imprisonment on Robben Island. I then seek to illustrate how the numerous, often-conflicting elements of the dominant narrative were ultimately consolidated and largely supplanted by the official narrative, as represented by Long Walk to Freedom, focusing specifically on its theme of progress and maturation. In my conclusion, I argue that many of the ideological elements which fed the mythical construction of Mandela in the dominant narrative, as a youthful, masculinised liberation fighter, persist today. The promise which the Mandela of the official narrative embodied, of South Africa as a ‗miracle‘ nation destined to move beyond the vestiges of Apartheid – including racism, unemployment and poverty – has largely failed to materialise, allowing these elements to gain an ideological currency once more.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Nelson Mandela word beskou as een van die belangrikste simboliese figure van die afgelope eeu, en hy verteenwoordig begrippe soos vryheid, vrede, rasse-versoening en die stryd teen tirannie. Alhoewel hierdie beeld grootliks onbetwis is, was die vestiging hiervan geensins ongekompliseer nie.Voordat hy op Robbeneiland aangehou was, was die jong Mandela as a ‗n militante vuurvreter in die ANC-bevrydingsbeweging gesien; hierdie beeld is teengestaan deur sy aristokratiese afkoms, opvoeding en professionele sukses as ‗n prokureur. Sy hoogs sigbare vergestalting van ‘n komplekse identitiet het nie net gehelp om hom te verhoog tot die bo-punt van die swart Johannesburgse sosiale hiёrargie nie, maar ook tot die voorpunt van die bevrydingstryd. In teenstelling het die staat hom beskou as ‘n terroris wat die staat will vernietig. Terwyl hy sy tronkstraf op Robbeneiland uitgevoer het, het die regering aktief probeer om sy woorde en foto‘s uit sirkulasie te verkry; dit het egter, ironies genoeg, die proses van Mandela se mitifisering vergemaklik. Na sy vrylating uit die tronk, het Mandela grootliks daarin geslaag om sy publieke beeld terug te neem en te herskep, grootliks deur middel van sy outobiografie Long Walk to Freedom en deur talle versoenings- en diplomatieke dade te onderneem. Dit is hierdie beeld wat steeds in die internasional publiek se geheue voortduur. In hierdie tesis, beoog ek om Mandela se mitifiseringsproses na te spoor, om te bevraagteken hoe die uiteenlopende en dikwels teenstrydige idees, beide deur hom en ander, rondom hom genarrativiseer is en opgeneem is in die mitiese figuur met wie ons vandag vertroud is. Ek het die narratiewe konstruksie van Mandela verdeel in twee breё periodes: Die ―dominante― verhaal, wat ontwikkel het vanaf sy toetrede tot die politiek tot met sy vrylating uit die tronk in 1990, en die „amptelike― verhaal, wat ontwikkel het vanaf en na sy vrylating uit die tronk. Ek beoog om te prosesse waardeur die dominante narratief/verhaal geskep is, te illustreer, en om te wys hoe hierdie narratiewe samestelling toenemend ideologiese waarde gekry het tydens sy tronkstraf op Robbeneiland. Daarna beoog ek om te illustreer hoe die dikwels teenstrydige elemente van die dominante verhaal/narratief uiteindelik gekonsolideer en vervang is deur die amptelike verhaal, soos verteenwoordig deur Long Walk to Freedom, deur spesifiek te fokus op diè werk se tema van vooruitgang en volwassewording. In my gevolgtrekking, argumenteer ek dat baie van die ideologiese elemente wat die mitiese konstruksie van Mandela in die dominante verhaal ondersteun het, as jeugdige, manlike vryheidsvegter, vandag voortduur. Die belofte wat die Mandela van die amptelike verhaal gesimboliseer het, dat Suid-Afrika, as ‘n ―wonderwerk―-nasie, bestem is om die oorblyfsels van Apartheid – insluitend rassisme, werkloosheid en armoede – te oorkom, het grootendeels misluk om te verwewenlik, wat hierdie elemete weereens ‘n ideologiese waarde laat verkry het.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/20102
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