News / Africa

Controversy Surrounds Commercializing of Mandela's Image

Green casual shoes and a red beaded necklace on show at a fashion range launch, inspired by South African President Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday in Johannesburg, June 29, 2012.
Green casual shoes and a red beaded necklace on show at a fashion range launch, inspired by South African President Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday in Johannesburg, June 29, 2012.
JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela turns 94 on Wednesday, July 18.  Despite being retired from public life, a recent study shows that the South African national hero is the second most well-known brand in the world, just behind Coca-Cola. Loved by everyone, the former president is bankable, and controlling the commercialization of his image is an everyday struggle.

46664 fashion line

Green, red, striped... the new collection of the 46664 fashion line does resemble the style of shirts worn by Nelson Mandela.  The brand was launched last year, and is named after Mandela's prisoner number when he was incarcerated at Robben Island. But the brand's CEO, Wayne Bebb, says he is not exploiting the fame of South Africa’s first black president.

"We are not allowed to commercialize Nelson Mandela," he said. "We do not use his image in any of our clothing. You will see very, very rarely any image of him in our marketing campaign."

Indeed, Mandela's face does not appear on the clothes. Instead, the brand logo shows Mandela's hand.  At that is apparently okay with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory - the organization is in charge of controlling the commercialization of Nelson Mandela's image.

Foundation spokesperson Sello Hatang says the task is enormous with everything from unauthorized clocks, T-shirts, mugs, and even a fast food chain.

"I think the last one was... I think it was calendars that populated the whole thing with Madiba's [a title of respect derived from his Xhosa clan name] image," said Hatang. "So that was the one that we've stopped. Commercialization is something that exists and is something that we try to work hard for people to understand that Mr. Mandela himself felt that discomfort with it."

Related photo gallery

  • Nelson Mandela smiles for photographers at his home in Johannesburg September 22, 2005.
  • Nelson Mandela and his then wife, Winnie, salute well-wishers as he leaves Victor Verster prison on Feb. 11, 1990.
  • This undated photograph shows Nelson Mandela and his former wife, Winnie.
  • South African State President Frederik Willem de Klerk and Deputy President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela prior to talks, Cape Town, May 2, 1990.
  • Nelson Mandela, is seen as he gives the black power salute to 120,000 ANC supporters in Soweto's Soccer City stadium, Feb. 13, 1990.
  • Then-African National Congress President Nelson Mandela salutes the crowd in Galeshewe Stadium near Kimberley, South Africa, Feb. 25, 1994.
  • Nelson Mandela and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II ride in a carriage outside Buckingham Palace on the first day of a state visit to Britain, July 9, 1996.
  • President Nelson Mandela and Britain's Prince Charles shake hands alongside members of the Spice Girls, Nov. 1, 1997.
  • Former U.S President Bill Clinton and former South African President Nelson Mandela speak during a Gala night in Westminster Hall, London, July 2, 2003.
  • Oscar winning South African actress Charlize Theron weeps at her meeting with former South African President Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, March 11,2004.
  • Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, wave to the audience during a Live 8 concert in Johannesburg, July 2, 2005.
  • Nelson Mandela jokes with youngsters as they celebrate his 89th birthday at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in Johannesburg, July 24, 2007.
  • Former South African president Nelson Mandela, center, followed by his grandson Mandla Mandela, rear right, arrives at the ceremony in Mvezo, South Africa, April 16, 2007.
  • Nelson Mandela waves to the media as he arrives outside 10 Downing Street, London, August 28, 2007.
  • Nelson Mandela waves as he arrives to attend the 2010 World Cup football final Netherlands vs. Spain on July 11, 2010 at Soccer City stadium in Soweto.
  • Nelson Mandela poses for a photograph after receiving a torch to celebrate the African National Congress' centenary in his home village Qunu, May 30, 2012.

Protecting Mandela's image

From letters to lawyers, the foundation has an array of legal means to protect the Mandela name. But Hatang says the organization also relies heavily on the public.

"In most instances, it's members of the public that express their horror whenever a company wants to abuse Madiba's image. So we rely heavily on members of the public fighting it. There is also a need for us to not only focus on the man, but on his legacy," said Hatang.

For advertiser Jeremy Sampson, CEO of the brand consultancy agency Interbrand Sampson, it's a fairly new phenomenon to have a person becoming a brand.

"I think it's only quite recently that people have thought of other people as being brands," he said. "A brand is basically about adding value, bringing an aura to something. In the case of Nelson Mandela, he's got trademarks on his name, is that Mandela, or Nelson Mandela, perhaps on his face, because it's almost becoming as well known as Che Guevara or someone like that.  And for that reason, I think you have to get lawyers involved, trademarks insurers, managing the whole process."

Managing that process and knowing where to draw the line can be tricky.

Financing charity

The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory does endorse various products related to the former president. Some of them have sparked controversy. A few years ago, 46664 - Mandela's HIV prevention organization - partnered with luxurious brand Mont-Blanc to produce an expensive bangle tagged with the famous prison number. Critics said such a luxury item was not in keeping with Mandela's modesty.

But the Centre notes that a sizeable percentage of the revenues from endorsed products go to charity and causes important to the former president.   And not every initiative associated with the Mandela brand is for profit; some are for activism - including Mandela Day - celebrated every year on his birthday July 18.  

Hatang says the day is meant to encourage South Africans and all people to get involved in community service and walk in Mandela's footsteps.

"We then remind people that there is a mechanism where you express your admiration for the man, to express your love for the man," said Hatang. "As the slogan says this year: that you must take action, inspire change. You can then do a Mandela day not just on his birthday, but do it every day."

Mandela Day will also be the day the 46664 clothing line will go international. The brand will be launched in North America, and soon in Europe as well as in other African countries such as Namibia and Mozambique.

You May Like

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs