The Colourful Legacy of Nelson Mandela

The Father of the Rainbow Nation

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The world became poorer by the loss of Nelson Mandela on Thursday, December 5. He was 95 years old.

The late South African statement won the affections of many all over the globe with his gentle eyes, articulate nature, love for English literature, and disarming smile (seen below in the gorgeous acrylic portrait by Johannesbrurg-based painter Paul Blomkamp), but it is through his tireless efforts to lead his country out of the dehumanising apartheid system which truly defined the man. His organisation of strikes and political protests denouncing the regime cost him his freedom, but it was a period in his life that only strengthened his resolve. International pressure was instrumental to his release from prison after twenty-seven years, to which he proceeded with negotiations with State leader Frederik Willem de Klerk to end the discrimination that persisted for decades. Mandela won the presidential seat at the country’s first democratic elections four years later. His term lasted for five years, but the nation was changed forever.

The Colourful Legacy of Nelson Mandela

Apartheid in South Africa ended when I was a little girl, but I had already been aware of the man also known as “Madiba” or “Tata” by then. The work of the revolutionary was a constant highlight in the social studies portion of my curriculum, the fight against racism resonating with the ethos of international schools, in which I was a student. Reading about his passing the day after the fact carried a pungent sting, but it was pacified by the gratitude felt in knowing that someone like Mandela existed.

Nelson Mandela Banknotes by the South African Reserve Bank

Nelson Mandela spent his presidency primarily focusing on national reconciliation. The first post-apartheid years still bore fresh wounds atop older and deeper scars, but he knew the vengeful turning of tables would do no favours for either party. He made efforts to ensure white South Africans that they are recognised under South Africa’s new identity as the “Rainbow Nation”, and the diverse cabinet he formed under him reflected the vibrance of the land’s new skin.

Mandela worked to materialise freedom of the press (which included the dismantling of the country’s apartheid media), the closing of the economic gap, improved infrastructure, and the establishment foreign relations, to name a few. After five eventful years in office, he made the decision not to run for a second time.

The Colourful Legacy of Nelson Mandela

Even though Mandela ultimately chose to cease being in the forefront of South Africa’s political arena, his reputation of being the country’s father earned him the privilege of being immortalised in the country’s newest circulation of bank notes. Released by the South African National Reserve Bank, Cape Town’s Am I Collective re-purposes the way Mandela’s life is represented numerically. Through illustrations of hero’s iconic moments, and the talented individuals in the creative studio move beyond the primary incarnations of 27, 46664, and 94. His incarceration, the casting of his ballot in the 1994 general elections, his inaugural speech, and even his relationship with the national rugby team are depicted on the new South African rand, yet valued beyond measure.

46664 Fashion

Aside from uniting the nation, additional efforts were made to strengthen the South Africa from inside out. Nelson Mandela even went as far as entertaining the likes of now-Blessed John Paul II, former Indonesian President Soeharto, Queen Elizabeth II, and even the late Michael Jackson, as an effort to remain connected with the world as a whole. This brought on the objective of bringing forth the country’s talent, first in sports, then in the textile industry, which, at the time, struggled to stay afloat.

The Colourful Legacy of Nelson Mandela

Inspired by Mandela and his prisoner number at Robben Island — and not to be mistaken as a Mandela-owned business — “46664” started as a global awareness and prevention campaign for HIV and AIDS. Over time, per his prompting, it expanded to become a fashion label that raises funds for The Nelson Mandela Foundation. Making its debut in the 2011 South Africa Fashion Week, it is through a leap into this venture that the number’s previous incarnation took on a whole new triumphant look.

The Colourful Legacy of Nelson Mandela

46664 Fashion‘s direction of the collections underline the spirit of his work. The brand bursts with life and celebration. “Nothing cheap, nothing exploitative, everything dignified and colourful,” according to Al Jazeera English. Each of the wearable pieces are appropriately priced to properly compensate all those who poured their sweat and time into the endeavour, bear no evidence of slave labour, and submit to the strict adherence to fair trade laws.

Nelson Mandela Capture Site

South Africa’s pool of imaginative citizens have taken to artistically memorialise locations that bear significance to the late Nelson Mandela. A unique sculpture of him was unveiled on the semi-centennial anniversary of his arrest over at Howick, in the country’s south-eastern region of KwaZulu-Natal. Artist Marco Cianfanelli and architect Jeremy Rose aptly used 50 painted laser-cut columns to portray the unforgettable man’s profile.

The Colourful Legacy of Nelson Mandela

Cianfanelli and Rose collaborated in driving each of the steel beams into the ground of the very location Mandela was captured by his opponents back in 1962. Each of these, though three-dimensional in nature, give the illusion of a flat image. By the completion, the work stood 30 metres in length and almost ten metres high. Even though the sculpture is the site’s most-known point, The Capture Site is also home to a small exhibition dedicated to Mandela’s life, a museum, craft shop, a conference centre, and amenities for children.

Mandela Poster Project

In the middle of 2013, a group of South African designers made the Mandela Poster Project Collective, with the intention of celebrating Nelson Mandela through the gift of art. The group called out to all creatives to make a poster, or posters, that honour Mandela’s life. After two months, submissions were collected from over 60 countries, proving that his contribution to humanity carried a global sentiment.

The Colourful Legacy of Nelson Mandela

All work were done without commission, and any event of profit would go directly to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust. The Mandela Poster Project published the pieces online on July 18, 2013, Nelson Mandela’s 95th and final birthday. An accompanying travel exhibition also took place in various locations throughout the country, such as the University of Pretoria and Peacemakers Museum. The Mandela Poster Project also received two instances of recognition in the American Professional Organisation for Design.

Inspiring the Rainbow Planet

Nelson Mandela also had a strong cultural pull towards the country in which I was born and raised, but I decided not to include his appreciation for batik, or “Madiba shirt“, in the above paragraphs. The 1993 Nobel Peace Prize laureate spent most of his years adopting an austere lifestyle, but still had a taste for finer things, particularly in terms of the value of its craft. As much as I love batik myself, I felt that waxing nostalgic over his fashion choices is almost rude a response to his earthly departure, especially since the extent of his life’s work is much larger.

Similarly, I believe that Mandela’s actions, be it controversial or subdued, was a demonstration of global leadership by example. It is pitifully myopic and simple-minded to interpret Mandela’s love for South Africa as categorical nationalism. In a world where borders are increasingly acknowledged as arbitrary, we should seek the depth of his core values: unity, diversity, tolerance, democracy, equality, and the like. Carrying forward those virtues, as well as the ambition to create a better world would be an additional — if not, his greatest — legacy.

(All images are credited to their respective owners. Click on any image to go to its source.)


  1. Maria Celina

    @Danica: Hi, Danica, thanks for your comment! I believe that everyone, famous or not, should be kept alive by the goodness they did and brought forward within their lives. I figured I’d do my own little part with this post. As for the visuals, none of them are mine, and I credit them appropriately as I describe them in various paragraphs. In fact, if you click on them, you can go to the source in which they were found. This is a standard I impose when making a post of this format and manner.

  2. Danica

    You picked excatly the right words: colorful and legacy. I love how this post is less focused on the loss and sadness but of the much beauty beyond that the great man inspired in the world. And oh, the photos are superb, are they your own?

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