Politics is so symbolic and he's icon #1 even if his hopes of "a better life for all" ran up against trench warfare by the real economic powers here and in the world. The world loves him more as a beloved "brand" of peace and reconciliation than as a fighter for economic and racial justice on the barricades of an ongoing revolution.
Madiba may be at the end of his Long Walk but the real long walk is hardly over as poverty and exploitation grows and festers, not only here but worldwide. His is a story that the 99% struggling for fairness worldwide can learn from.
What drove me, a boy from a working class family in the Bronx, to become so fascinated by and drawn to this African story? Why did I immerse myself in it for so long, long after the activist community I was part of turned to other issues? Was I a Mandela maniac, the equivalent of being in a kind of Beatles fan club?
Why do I also at times feel imprisoned by it?
Truth be told, I am not a worshipper; Madiba is not a friend. There are many who are much closer to him. I am very aware of his highly political persona and history of manipulating and acting autocratically. He himself has written a confession about his flaws and limitations.
His political gifts helped engineer what there has been of a transformation here in South Africa but it was the movements he's led that catapulted him into the widely loved status he enjoys.
Yet, I also admired the way the ANC organized and believed in their cross-class approach, at least in theory ---a big tent but democratic umbrella movement, a clear set of principles as first articulated in the Freedom Charter, a dedication to non-racialism and a willingness to build alliances with labor and political groups to the left of their mass base. It offers a model that Americans and others could still learn from and emulate.
I documented the ANC's transition from a banned and hunted movement to a dominant political party with all the factionalism and compromises that involves. I began my own involvement as part of a small solidarity movement in my own country that grew into a major force before its flow ebbed.
Now I feel like the last American post- apartheid activist just as years earlier I felt like the last banned person, barred from coming here by the old government even after the ANC was un-banned. As the beautiful South African hymn, Senzenina, asks: "What Have I Done?"
As someone with a company called Globalvision and a global outlook, I always saw the struggle here as a force change beyond the borders of South Africa. I have been privileged to be welcomed here and encouraged to contribute what I can. Last Fall, I was delighted to connect with some visiting South African activists at Occupy Wall Street in New York. They recognized a struggle when they saw one!
Few Americans have had that opportunity to enlist in this Long Walk and to be part, albeit a small part, of a great human story and world-class force, and now on its way to being dramatized in a major movie.
I do know that I have learned and received much more than I have been able to give.
Hopefully, if my efforts as a producer from outside South Africa can help tease out the meaning and, then, share it worldwide, I could be of some value.
News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at News Dissector.net, and contributes to many websites in the US and worldwide. His new books are Blogothon and Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street (Cosimo.) He hosts a weekly program on Progressive Radio. Network. (PRN.fm).