Memorials Maketh the Man

Mandela memorial image.jpg

By Eve Fairbanks, The Mail & Guardian, April 18, 2011

(reposted after Mandela's death)

In February, a few days after the furore over Nelson Mandela's recent health scare subsided, I flew home to the United States to help my mother, who had herself fallen sick.

Mandela was still on my mind, and as I walked the streets of my home country, I noticed anew how confidently organised the US is around the memory and image of our own national father, George Washington. The Washington Monument javelins out of downtown Washington DC, as jauntily as the Hillbrow Tower.

No building in our capital is, or legally can be, taller. Bronze and marble statues of Washington fan out like moral fence posts over the country, from balmy South Carolina to rural Idaho and New York, where there are no less than seven in the city. Washington's February birthday is a national holiday and this year I drove to his old estate in Virginia, where I paid to join his birthday celebration using bills and coins decorated with engravings of him.

An impersonator dressed in a powdered wig and an old-fashioned three-cornered hat helped hand out steaming oat pancakes to throngs of children. (Evidently Washington strictly ate pancakes for breakfast to keep himself strong.) Outside the whitewashed house, a long queue of twentysomethings locals, not tourists was forming to glimpse the intimate details of how our founder had lived.

What will Mandela's 279th birthday in 2197 be like in South Africa?  Read more ...