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Fight to free Mandela from tacky T-shirts

  • Story Highlights
  • 200 people worldwide warned against misuse of Mandela's image
  • Nelson Mandela Foundation strives to protect the Mandels "brand"
  • Artists say Foundation is being heavy handed
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From CNN's Robyn Curnow
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- His is one of the most famous faces in the world -- a symbol of dignity and reconciliation for many.

Those protecting Mandela's image want him remembered as more than just a face on a T-shirt

Those protecting Mandela's image want him remembered as more than just a face on a T-shirt

But those now trying to protect his image say Nelson Mandela is also in danger of becoming an exploited brand, emblazoned on clothing, smiling from unauthorized paintings and commemorated in a proliferation of tacky memorabilia.

"What we don't want is for him to become another Che Guevara, another face on a T-shirt," says Achmed Dangor, head of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which organizes charitable projects on behalf of the former South African president.

Dangor and the Mandela Foundation have been aggressive in clamping down on what they say is an illegal use of Mandela's image.

Artist Yuill Damasso, one of 200 people worldwide who have been warned against exploiting the Nobel laureate's iconic status, says the Foundation is being heavy handed.

"The people around him, trying to protect him, are being overprotective. He is widely regarded as the father of freedom now, yet we are not allowed to depict his image," he says.

Problems protecting Mandela's image stand in contrast to the 27 years he spent in prison when photographs of him were outlawed, althought this didn't stop him becoming a poster star of overseas anti-apartheid campaigns.

But playing policeman is not just about protecting his image from overexposure, says Verne Harris, archivist with the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

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"Legacy is not something you receive in pristine form and your role is to hold it over time. We believe legacy is made, constantly remade," he says.

The Foundation says it is aware that Mandela will exist as a brand long after he is gone.

But it says it wants to make sure he's instantly remembered as a man who helped changed history -- a man whose qualities of reconciliation, forgiveness and hope can be emulated by all.

"For us, our role is about fostering that process. South Africa has a stake in that legacy. Arguably, the world has a stake in that legacy," says Harris "It's not about ownership -- custody -- but creating spaces for this to continue growing."

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