At the event, one of many held this year in honour of the fifth anniversary of Madiba’s death, Ngozi Adichie said that memory was a complicated, “utterly subjective beast”.

“I think humanising him, acknowledging that he wasn’t perfect, isn’t denigrating him. When we do that, we realise that there’s a lot that we ourselves can do. It seems like everyone tries to own him. Some have turned him into a sanitised glass urn. Others really engage with who he was and what he thought.”

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The Nelson Mandela Tribute, hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation as part of the remembrance period to mark five years since the passing of South Africa’s first democratic president, looked at how histories have shaped the imagination of the future.

Ngozi Adichie said that people need to engage critically about historical figures like Mandela and not be simplistic in their analysis about the roles that they played in shaping history and the future. She also urged the youth to start taking ownership in shaping their own histories.

“There are young people who say that you can’t like Mandela now. He sold out. I think that’s simplistic. It’s important to understand that moral figures are also human. We know that humans are not perfect and yet we expect perfection. If we we were perfect there would be no stories. It is our flaws, imperfections and striving to be better that give texture to stories,” she said.

“Our history was invented for us. It’s time for us to reclaim it. I went to a very good school in Nigeria, but I knew very little about Nigerian history. I knew a lot more about the kings and queens of England. Who defines the ‘accepted norm’? It’s about owning who you are and knowing that who you are is enough.”

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Sello Hatang, chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said memories, such as Mandela’s memory, should not focus on public acts but should serve as a foundation for social justice. “We serve by not just thinking of the past, but of the battles that lie ahead.”

– African News Agency (ANA)