FORMER South African president Nelson Mandela has countless streets named after him‚ his own foundation‚ his own fan page and now his own social network.
The website Mandela.is allows users‚ called “citizens”‚ to connect‚ share inspirational thoughts‚ photos and articles in an effort to emulate the apartheid icon’s positive effect on the world.
The site is the brain-child of two Mandela grandsons and it was set up by the company behind British pop icon Lady Gaga’s online social community littlemonsters.com.
“It’s a social network around the inspiration my grandfather gave to the world‚” said Ndaba Mandela‚ 30.
“People can share what Mandela inspired them to do‚ to give back to their communities.”
Few people today command the same global adoration as Mr Mandela‚ 95‚ who for many embodies peace and forgiveness.
Four years ago the United Nations declared his birthday‚ on July 18‚ Mandela Day — calling on people around the world to spend 67 minutes doing good for others to mark the number of years he spent as an activist.
But four hospitalisations in a year are a reminder of Mr Mandela’s old age and mortality.
He has spent more than two months in hospital for a critical lung infection and is on life support machines.
“We only celebrate our icons‚ our leaders when they have passed away‚” Ndaba said. “We came together as a family and said‚ ‘Guys‚ let’s not wait until he is dead‚ let us start the celebration now (while) he is still moving‚ talking‚ communicating.’”
‘It’s not about the money’
Entrepreneur Ndaba developed the idea with his cousin Kweku‚ 28‚ who has a background in entertainment and marketing.
The cousins’ parents‚ Makgatho and Makaziwe‚ are Mr Mandela’s children with his first wife‚ Evelyn Mase‚ whom he divorced in 1958.
Mandela.is was quietly launched in March 2013. Still in the beta phase‚ it has about 1‚000 members‚ some of them already vocal.
Kukogho Samson‚ a 28-year-old Nigerian journalist‚ often posts his poems: “Seek the honour in doing good: A word to sweeten sour mood‚ A loaf for mouths that lack‚ A cloth to cover naked back.”
Kathleen Ndongmo‚ a 34-year-old entrepreneur from Cameroon‚ is outspoken about justice in Africa‚ lashing out at child marriage in Nigeria and corruption in Guinea.
The platform combines features from Facebook and Twitter into one site where users post information‚ pictures and multimedia.
Posts are tagged with key words such as “inspire”‚ “everyday heroes”‚ and “random act of kindness”‚ which facilitates searches by other members.
“Rather than focus on Nelson Mandela’s singular achievements‚ our goal is to engage a global community in dialogue about the inspiring acts of those all around us‚” the site states.
The project is a joint venture with Backplane‚ the Silicon Valley-based firm behind Lady Gaga’s virtual community Little Monsters.
Instead of a regular fan page‚ Gaga opted to create a social network for her fans.
Almost 1-million people subscribe to Littlemonsters.com to buy concert tickets and Gaga-merchandise‚ share pictures of gigs and find out the latest info about their icon.
Her manager‚ Troy Carter‚ founded Backplane to unite people with similar interests in “single-brand social networks”.
“We believe that consumers and brands want more meaningful ways to connect and engage with each other online‚” the firm explains on its website.
The Mandela cousins hope Mandela.is will do the same to channel energy for a bigger effect.
Eventually they plan to generate money from the site‚ pledging part of the revenue to their nonprofit Africa Rising Foundation‚ a project to promote the continent’s image through the arts.
“This is a business like any other business‚” said Ndaba‚ though he insists the priority is “to create a platform that is credible‚ respectable and enjoyable by users”.
“It’s not about the money‚ but to make the people understand who is Nelson Mandela and give back to their communities‚” he said. – Sapa