News / Africa

South Africa Vendors Hawk Mandela-themed Merchandise

A street vendor sells Nelson Mandela-themed buttons outside the house where the anti-apartheid icon once lived in the township of Soweto, Dec. 9, 2013.
A street vendor sells Nelson Mandela-themed buttons outside the house where the anti-apartheid icon once lived in the township of Soweto, Dec. 9, 2013.
— They've sprung up at all of the mourning sites. Outside of the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Nelson Mandela's former home in Houghton, the Mandela Museum in Soweto and the FNB Stadium, vendors are hawking merchandize bearing the anti-apartheid icon's name or likeness.

Just down the hill from the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Elizabeth Sithole, 52, was drawn in by a vendor after seeing the body of Nelson Mandela, which lay in state on Friday.

A man selling Mandela hats, posters and buttons caught her ear, and within a few minutes, she had spent $30.

"I'm buying so that I can be able to remember Dr. Nelson Rohilhala Mandela as my icon," she said. "I did buy a poster so that I can be able to put it inside my house to remember him whenever, even my kids can be able to see, and even my grandchildren can be able to see him."

In the days that have followed Mandela's death, makeshift memorial sites have popped up all over Johannesburg and Pretoria, becoming selling grounds for Mandela-themed goods.

Selling hats, t-shirts, blankets, buttons and hologram posters, these entrepreneurs have done well.

Frans Mathe used a different title for his job.

"Me, I'm a hustler, I always sell," Methe said. "So I also watched this target. So most people you know, they like Mandela. So I said let me buy these pictures and then try to sell for those people who can't reach, you see."

Mathe went to a store and purchased 100 Mandela hologram posters for 10 cents each, which he was selling for 20 cents on the street. Thursday, he sold 30 of them. Friday, he sold 20.

In the Fashion District in downtown Johannesburg, which is filled with immigrant-run clothing stores, Mandela items were selling well.

"As soon as Mandela, when he was dead. When we heard that, we put those shirts with his pictures for memorial service," said Mary Terada, an Ethiopian shopkeeper.

Daniel Onyeneaucheya, a Nigerian clothing shop owner down the street, decided against selling Mandela items.

"I don't need to sell his items to respect him or follow him," he said. "I believe that everyone should respect him the more by living by the way he taught us to live."

But he did not hold it against others who were making sales.

In Pretoria Friday, painter Radineo Letlape and his friends sold his paintings along the queue of people waiting to pay their respects at the Union Building.

“It's a bit of carving, a bit of painting, plus a bit of charcoal work, but the faces itself are actually being portrayed by the wood," Letlape said.

Each is painted on a board, and the wood is left unpainted within Mandela's face.
He spoke about wanting everyone in South Africa, also known by the slang word  Mzanzi, to have something that would remind them of Mandela. He is hoping his paintings can do that for some.

"By seeing him actually every day, it's not easy for us to can forget Tata, so I'm playing my part, a bit of my part, to actually have him around Mzanzi," Letlape said.

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