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South Africa: From freedom fighter to fashion icon

Nelson Mandela has forever changed the way Africa dresses, said Tim Kamuzu Banda in the Nairobi Nation.

South Africa

From freedom fighter to fashion icon

Nelson Mandela has forever changed the way Africa dresses, said Tim Kamuzu Banda in the Nairobi Nation. Before the South African dissident became president, in 1994, most African leaders wore Western-style business suits. But few other Africans dressed that way, and Mandela, known to Africans by the honorific Madiba, decided he “wanted to identify with the people.” So he asked a friend, designer Sonwabile Ndamase, to come up with a comfortable garment that would combine European and African styles and could be worn on both formal and informal occasions. “The result was a shirt that has made its mark on the world scene.” During his five years in office, Mandela wore it on formal trips abroad and to welcome numerous foreign dignitaries to his homeland. The Madiba shirt, usually in a bold pattern, is always worn buttoned to the top and untucked. Because it flatters many builds, it “sells like hot cakes,” not only in South Africa but also in many other parts of the world. “Thus, Mandela is not just a living saint but also a fashion statement.”

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