Stephen Colbert explains why it’s weird when Americans call Mandela ‘Madiba’

December 11, 2013

Within South Africa, people often refer to beloved national hero Nelson Mandela by his traditional Xhosa clan name, "Madiba." It's a term of endearment, respect and familiarity. It's also frequently used by Mandela's friends, family and fellow-travelers in the decades long struggle against apartheid.

There's a slightly awkward tendency for people in the United States, though, to use the term of affection for Mandela. It's well-intentioned for sure, but it can also come across a bit like cultural appropriation. You also hear this done with another Mandela nickname, "Tata," which means father. But these issues are complicated, which is why we ran a South African's guide for when it is or is not appropriate to refer to the late South African leader as "Madiba."

Now, fellow foreign affairs analyst Stephen Colbert has weighed in on the issue of Americans appropriating Madiba. "Yes, some called him Madiba or some called him Tata or some called him Tata-Madiba," Colbert says after showing clips of white American TV news anchors wistfully deploying the nicknames. "Those of us in his inner circle, of course, called him Nutella. Rich, creamy, chocolate-hazelnut justice."

"Mandela radiated so much love that we in the media often felt our concerns were his concerns," Colbert says, before moving on to skewer former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum for his own attempts to appropriate Mandela's name and cause. As I wrote last week, you can expect to read or hear some variation of this sentence at least once per week for the rest of your natural life: "Were Mandela alive today, he would no doubt share my views on this domestic U.S. policy issue."

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Max Fisher | December 11, 2013