His middle name was trouble, but did he free a nation? Mandela's legacy

Monday 1 December 2014

Nelson Rolihlahla (Xhosa for 'troublemaker') Mandela has been described as a phenomenon and a global icon. He was also a practical, pragmatic politician. But who was the real Nelson Mandela? Mandela: myth and reality, a conference which will be held at Senate House on 5 December, explores the man behind the myth.

A year after the death of South Africa’s first black president, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS), part of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study (SAS), will be bringing together a remarkable group of experts to analyse his contribution to the creation of the new, free South Africa. They include a former leading member of the Commonwealth Secretariat involved in the negotiations for South Africa’s transition, as well as academic experts in international affairs and African politics.

The conference has been organised with the help of two ICWS senior research fellows who were both able to observe at first-hand developments in South Africa - Keith Somerville (lecturer on journalism and the global media, and a former BBC World Service news programmes editor) and Martin Plaut (journalist and former BBC World Service Africa editor).

The Director of the ICWS, Professor Philip Murphy notes, ‘Nelson Mandela was a multi-faceted individual - lawyer, militant, imprisoned dissident, political negotiator, and presidential icon. He combined charisma, intelligence, humanity and political cunning, as well as being the representative of so many South Africans’ hopes and dreams – which, as Mandela realised were powerful political currencies. This conference will look at the complexities of his remarkable political life.’

The one-day conference runs from 9am to 6pm and is organised around two major themes – 'Liberation and myth-making: ideology and politics' and 'Mandela and the media: the construction of the image of an icon'. They encompass Mandela’s labyrinthine political relationships, including with South African Communist Party and the ANC, and his shift from a policy of protest to one of negotiation.

Mandela: myth and reality aims to disentangle Mandela’s complicated legacy and cast new light on his astonishing ability to tap into politics, culture and history in order to create and communicate a vision for a new South Africa. It will also examine his flaws.

Mandela: myth and reality is on 5 December, in Chancellor’s Hall, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU. For further information and to attend, please contact: olga.jimenez@sas.ac.uk.

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Notes for editors:

1. For all enquiries, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8653/ Maureen.McTaggart@sas.ac.uk

2. The Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICwS) is the only postgraduate academic institution in the UK devoted to the study of the Commonwealth. Founded in 1949, its purpose is to promote interdisciplinary and inter-regional research on the Commonwealth and its member nations in the fields of history, politics and other social sciences.  Its areas of specialism include international development, governance, human rights, north-south relations and conflict and security.  The Institute of Commonwealth Studies is a member institute of the School of Advanced Study, University of London. www.commonwealth.sas.ac.uk

3. The School of Advanced Study, University of London (SAS) is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2012-13, SAS welcomed 833 research fellows and associates; held 2,231 research dissemination events; received 21.7 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms; and received 194,529 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. Find out more at www.sas.ac.uk or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.