The recent brouhaha over Naomi Campbell’s blood diamonds cast a somewhat lurid light over the comings and goings at the Mandela Foundation and the Mandela Children’s Fund. For many years there has been a stream of celebrities eager to shake hands with Mandela, share a photo opportunity with him and of course contribute to the fund. But looking at the famous photo of Mandela, Campbell, Charles Taylor et al., you have to wonder what such an unsavoury character as Taylor was doing there.
And now there’s Thaksin Shinawatra, who got his photo op with Nelson Mandela last month, as well as a separate one with Winnie. Thaksin, once the owner of Manchester City FC, is a convicted felon with charges of terrorism pending against him. He was apparently travelling on a Montenegrin passport (its citizenship is freely sold to those who invest there). Thaksin is a fugitive from Thailand – he slipped out of the country to go to the Beijing Olympics just before the Thai Supreme Court sentenced him to two years in jail. He has a particular penchant for being photographed with the famous and his website is adorned with evidence of his celebrity contacts. He is barred from entry to the UK and most of the EU. He is, indeed, a pariah even if also a multimillionaire.
Remarkably, his visit to South Africa and to Mandela was arranged so secretly that news of it only leaked out when his lawyer brandished photos of Thaksin with Nelson and Winnie. Mandela remains an icon but it’s hard to see how long even he can entertain the likes of Taylor and Thaksin without some fairly embarrassing questions being raised.