QUNU - Ayanda Mbatyothi, who bears a striking resemblance to a young Nelson Mandela, vowed Sunday to carry on the legacy of the icon who had unwittingly launched his career.
The 37-year-old, who hails from an impoverished township in eastern South Africa, is the spitting image of Mandela in the days before his arrest by the apartheid state in 1962.
Mbatyothi even sounds like Mandela, and makes a living impersonating South Africa's first black president on screen.
"Madiba never forgot about the people. I will try and carry forward the very same idea," he told AFP, referring to South Africa's first black president by his clan name.
"It's a big responsibility," Mbatyothi said ahead of Mandela's burial in his boyhood village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape -- the same province from which the impersonator hails.
He said he often caught passers-by staring at him, stopping and then turning to take a second look, before walking off perplexed.
Mandela himself was taken aback by the similarity, he recounted.
When they met for the first time at a political rally in the mid-1990s, Mbatyothi said he told the great leader: "Ah, you are my twin" in the same distinctive voice now well-known around the globe.
"Mandela turned to me and said: 'My God,' and started laughing," he recalled.
Ayanda Mbatyothi (L) looks and sounds like a younger Nelson Mandela. PHOTOs/AFP
Asked to take up a Mandela boxing pose, made famous in a 1950s a black-and-white picture taken at a gym in Soweto township south of Johannesburg, it is as if the photo itself comes to life and returns to colour.
A recital of Mandela's famous "I am prepared to die" speech, made in April 1964 from the dock during his treason trial, returns one to the courtroom.
Mbatyothi has portrayed the Nobel Peace Prize laureate on numerous occasions, including in a local movie and a documentary about Mandela's ruling African National Congress (ANC).
The impersonator also uses his gift to do charity work and bring joy to others.
"Where Madiba used to have a Christmas party for young children every year, I decided to turn it around and be a young Mandela for the elderly, doing a Christmas party for them," he said with a laugh.
Mandela was buried with full military honours in a state funeral on Sunday, concluding 10 days of national mourning.
Mbatyothi said he was worried about a future without his role model.
"I'm thinking, after Mandela is gone... we don't know where this country is going to be," he said.
"But I will always try to dedicate my life to try and be more like him," Mbatyothi said, cracking a broad smile so reminiscent of South Africa's first black president.