Why Nelson Mandela is called Madiba

4:23 PM, Dec 6, 2013   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) Shortly after Nelson Mandela's death Thursday, his clan name Madiba emerged in condolences around the world and became a trending topic on Twitter.

The clan or family name represents a person's ancestry. The meaning is deeper than a surname and is used as a sign of respect and affection. The origin of Madiba comes from a chief who ruled in the 18th century, according to theNelson Mandela Foundation.

Madiba would be used in "an intimate context," said Richard Pithouse, a politics professor at Rhodes University in South Africa. When Mandela entered school, a teacher gave him the name Nelson. It was customary for Africans to also give children English names back then.

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But the wider public had also taken to referring to Mandela as Madiba.

Fellow South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu said, "Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth, the Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless." Tutu said Friday that Madiba's legacy would live on in South Africa.

"People would not tend to use that name if they didn't have positive feelings for him," Pithouse said.

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The use of Madiba could also have a political meaning, said Peter Alegi, a professor at Michigan State University specializing in South African history.

"Using the Madiba name is to reclaim his African-ness and to downplay the Nelson part, which is a colonial legacy that unfortunately shackled much of the African continent for a long, long time," Alegi said.

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Madiba is a term used for older people, particularly men, fitting for a man called the father of the South African nation.

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