Mandela: the man, the image, the brand

2012-07-18 10:05

Mandela the man has been celebrated, honoured and worshipped to the point of sainthood. Beyond the man is a brand that is equally powerful.

‘Not much has changed in terms of having to plan every action, having everything questioned. The man and the brand are always under public scrutiny.

I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb … I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.’

This quote is from Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom, published in 1995. True to his word, 17 years later his long walk hasn’t ended.

For years, the man – recognised, respected and revered around the world – hasn’t had a moment’s rest.

From political debates and election canvasing to charity work and the weight of having an entire nation defining itself through his legacy, the Mandela legend continues to grow and evolve.

As Tom Lodge, a former professor of political studies at Wits, wrote in a 2009 article on OpenDemocracy.net: ‘Nelson Mandela must surely be the first public figure whose 90th birthday was anticipated with an in-ternationally televised rock concert held in a packed public space in London.’

The Struggle may be over, his term as president of South Africa long gone, but awareness around Mandela has been increasing at a steady rate, with no sign of an end in sight.

While Mandela the man has earned his accolades as a freedom fighter, peace maker, beloved president and a host of other titles, separating the man from the brand is difficult.

And it’s not just a South African phenomenon; it’s a powerful symbol the world over.

As Mandela’s former lawyer, Ismail Ayob, once said, Mandela is second only to Coca-Cola in global recognition.

Looking back
Brand Mandela dates back to before the Rivonia Trial of 1964 – even though the concept of branding was, in those days, in its infancy, and certainly not a consideration for the freedom fighters of the day.

He received plenty of publicity during the 1950s, as pictures of him on the pages of Drum magazine show.

After his imprisonment, his name became widely known and Struggle songs referred to him. Despite his image being banned, it became a powerful political symbol around the world.

In the late 1980s, as pressure was mounting to free Mandela, Mbongeni Ngema’s musical Sarafina! had a young Leleti Khumalo, in a suit, pretending to be Mandela, singing ‘Freedom is coming tomorrow’.

By this stage the man had reached the status of cultural icon, only one with a role that surpassed that of the typical celebrity.

Building the brand
Mandela’s life and contribution to the Struggle seemed to be celebrated more than any others’ – there were, after all, many freedom fighters and political leaders imprisoned during South Africa’s dark history – but whether deliberate or not, Mandela became the face of a movement; the face of the ANC.

The major difference between then and now is that Mandela, in his early activist days, would assume an alter ego – the Black Pimpernel – that allowed him to escape somewhat. In Long Walk To Freedom he says, ‘Living underground requires a seismic psychological shift.

One has to plan every action, however small and seemingly insignificant. Nothing is innocent.

Everything is questioned. You cannot be yourself; you must fully inhabit whatever role you have assumed.’

While this was a completely different time to Mandela’s reality today, not much has changed in terms of having to plan every action, having everything questioned. The man and the brand are always under public scrutiny.

Brand power
The custodian of the Mandela brand is the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF), which is under the lea-dership of writer Achmat Dangor.

Its job is to manage and protect the brand.

From this organisation, other aspects have been spawned, including the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory – the go-to place for all things Mandela.

Perhaps the most recognisable offshoot of the Mandela brand is 46664, named after his Robben Island prison number.

This nonprofit organisation was initially established in 2002 as a global HIV/Aids awareness and prevention campaign.

It has since grown, using other avenues, into a vehicle to get Mandela’s message of humanitarian work to the world.

The star-studded 46664 concerts have garnered global attention, with celebrities such as Bono and Beyoncé showing their support for the cause.

Other projects under the 46664 umbrella include bangles, a cellphone starter pack and clothing.

In fact, 46664 Apparel is going international, with the exclusive (and much-desired) sub-license being granted to Dallas-based Company B.

The label will be launched in America on Mandela Day today – another commemorative initiative associated with 46664, in which people are encouraged to take 67 minutes to do something good in their community (he fought for social change for 67 years).

The Mandela brand reaches even further with the Nelson Mandela Institute, a collaboration between the NMF and the Department of Education to continue Madiba’s work in education and rural development.

There is also the planned Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Johannesburg, the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

Mandela Day
The first Nelson Mandela Day was held in 2008. Today, reflecting the man’s global popularity and desire to ‘make the world a better place’, it is officially known as Nelson Mandela International Day.

The theme this year is ‘Make Every Day A Mandela Day’, and the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory’s contribution is ‘94 Projects For Madiba’ (honouring his 94th birthday), with 94 schools in need of infrastructural development receiving assistance.

Many celebrities have joined the ranks of ‘changemakers’ to raise awareness and support causes they believe in. And everybody around the world has been asked to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Madiba at 8am (their time) today.

VIP protection
Dangor has been vocal about the NMF’s intent to keep the Mandela brand true to its founder.

He has had to go up against many businesses and individuals who have tried to lay claim and gain profit from using Mandela’s name and image, for a host of projects from wines and restaurants to hair salons and other small businesses.

In 2007 the NMF took the radical step of replacing all imagery of Mandela’s face with that of his left hand, as part of their mission to break down the myth around Mandela and to place the focus on his work.

‘It became clear to us that unless you could project the work beyond the man, the work was al-ways going to be measured in terms of him and would therefore never measure up because his sta-ture’s so huge,’ Dangor states in a 2010 Destiny Man article.

‘We’ve had to implement a very strict protocol about the use of his name,’ Dangor said in another article on CSmonitor.com.

‘Our biggest fear is commercialisation.

He [Mandela] has said: “My name and my image is not for sale.”’

There is one exception to this rule – in a fantastic twist in the tale, Nelson Mandela’s face is replacing the Big Five as the image on South Africa’s currency.

No amount of money could buy that kind of branding.

As Proudly South African CEO, Leslie Sedibe says, ‘The fact that Tata Madiba will be the first living person to be depicted on our bank notes should be viewed as a tribute to him, his contribution to democracy and his impact on reconciliation.’

br>However, with such greatness, there is almost always a defect, and this revered brand is no different.

While it can be expected that the public would try to take advantage of the Mandela name, some of the scandals have involved insiders.

Ismail Ayob, was accused of selling artworks with Mandela’s signature without permission.

Some of the wrongdoing has also implicated Mandela’s family members.

His grandson, Chief Mandla Mandela, was accused of selling the media rights to Mandela’s funeral – a claim he has denied.

Again, the lines are blurred by the fact that the brand is made by the man, but Mandela the man is human, with real-life dramas, while the brand is built on principles.

But the world’s need to ‘own’ Mandela needn’t manifest in physical things, like streets and commercial goods.

As Sedibe says, ‘The best way that we, as people of South Africa, can pay tribute to Madiba is to ensure his legacy lives on.

His legacy epitomises forgiveness, unity and reconciliation and we should try to live this out in our daily lives.

We can try our best to emulate his gentleness and humility, even during difficult times; we can commit ourselves to social justice and to doing something to improve the lives of others; and we can continue to fight racism and prejudice in our society.’

Dangor suggests a university course, a guide to practical life based on how Nelson Mandela and other icons did it.

‘To me, that would be a far more meaningful form of ownership. It’s also an inspiration to other people that you can solve problems yourself, you can influence your own destiny.

If we can succeed in implanting that concept here, in young people in remote rural areas who are angry that their expectations haven’t been met, they could use the Mandela example and say: “I can do things for my-self.”’

» Get your iMag with City Press on Sunday.

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