February 2nd, 2011
02:42 PM GMT
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South Africans have been counting how much Nelson Mandela means to them recently. His ill heath has made many here reflect on the life of the former South African president.

The feelings are genuine. Many South Africans consider Mandela to be the grandfather of this nation's multi-racial democracy and the moral voice of the country.

For so many, he is irreplaceable. His worth is unquantifiable.

Ever since he was released from prison in 1990, people have wanted to "own" a bit of Mandela. So you can buy all sorts of Mandela memorabilia in South Africa: Images of his face can be seen on gold coins, handbags, salt and pepper shakers, place mats, clocks and a lot else.

This was upsetting to the Nelson Mandela Foundation. They were concerned Mandela's legacy would be demeaned if he became "just another face on a T-shirt," like Che Guevara. So they clamped down on excessive merchandising of his image.

It seems to have worked. Much of the stuff you can now buy has been "approved" by Mandela's office.

There is good reason for being careful about the Mandela brand – his is probably one of the world's most recognizable names. So the Mandela Foundation has been trying to ensure that his name becomes synonymous with his values, rather than cheap T-shirts. There has been a concerted effort to make sure that Mandela's legacy endures long after he has gone.

But on the streets here, as South Africans count how much Mandela means to them, his "brand" and his "image" are hollow words.

For them, you cannot put a price on what Mandela did to bring peace and democracy to this nation perched on the southern tip of Africa.

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