The Venezuelan government had to abandon plans to put the corpse ofcommandante Hugo Chavez on permanent display; but Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid freedom fighter and former president of South Africa, is already embalmed; his lively face all but frozen. Propped up in a hospital bed, having ‘enjoyed a full breakfast’ – we are told, but it’s hard to see how his frame, thin as an Indian dhosa, would manage to absorb it, lungs recently drained of excess fluid, Mandela’s bodily existence is propping up a regime which might otherwise collapse into bloody recriminations and racial violence. As the nation prays for ‘Madiba’ (his Xhosa clan name, now a term of endearment both for the man himself and for his trademark batik shirts), so his every breath is a rasping prayer for South Africa to survive. In previous guises – lawyer, activist, ‘terrorist’, political prisoner, presidential candidate, head-of-state, elder statesman, Nelson Mandela was called upon to speak. In the 1990s his careful diction became the watchword for post-apartheid integrity. From his Ribena lips – purplish on brown skin – national integration sounded possible. Recognition of who he was speaking to and what they needed to hear, was audible in every utterance. Being the person that everyone else could hear themselves echoed in, made Mandela the nation: l’etat c’est lui (not you, Louis). Today he may be barely able to talk but it doesn’t matter; he could be suffering from locked-in syndrome and he would still be locked in to a statesman-like role. Only death can free this 94-year-old man from the responsibility of being Mandela.