As Mandela passes on, businesses rush in

JOHANNESBURG -- Global icon Nelson Mandela may be gone, but his name remains a powerful marketing tool.

It was just a week ago that gray clouds hovered over South Africa’s sky with the sad news of the passing of Tata Madiba, and the weather has not changed much since. The country’s first black president, Nelson Mandela had died, following a long recurring lung infection, on December 5.

This set in motion an international media frenzy and a state funeral that would draw, from around the world, thousands who wanted to pay honor to Mandela, whose views and fight for freedom made him possibly one of the most beloved political figures in recent history.  

But along with the eulogies has ensued a capitalist free-for-all as many – including his family -- have taken the opportunity of his passing to fatten their purses using his name.  

Whether one is standing outside Mandela’s home in Houghton, Johannesburg or along Vilakazi Street in Soweto, street vendors everywhere are selling Mandela-branded merchandise such as framed photographs and branded coffee mugs. Some are even selling the African National Congress’s logo, the ruling party, bearing the face of Mandela to the party followers.

"Mandela has surely been venerated by more millions in his lifetime than any political figure in history. ... The world responded to the qualities it perceived in the man, as well as to the scale of his achievement," The Guardian said in its obituary. For these reasons, Mandela's exceptionally untarnished, universally positive image makes for an extraordinary brand.

“I don’t want to make a comparison, but it’s like going to Ellis Park for a football game and you have all these guys selling merchandise outside the stadium. A lot of poor people and the not so poor see it as an opportunity to make a living out of this. You have to realize that Mandela is in the public domain so it’s going to be difficult to control the brand even though the name and brand is trademarked,” says Jeremy Sampson, executive chairman of Interbrand SampsonDeVilliers.

As final preparations get underway for the funeral, vendors are sure to increase their prices. However, the tussle for brand Madiba is not just by vendors but his own family as well. The global icon’s children and grandchildren, during his illness, clashed over the rights to his legacy.

While he was alive, Mandela divided the management of his legacy between various trusts to handle his finances, setting up about 24 trusts, mostly to pay for the education of his children and grandchildren.

Earlier this year, Mandela’s two daughters went public, taking to the courts in an attempt to gain control of the main Mandela Trust since 2005, and eventually became trustees without their father’s knowledge.

South African media reports that the fight for Mandela's inheritance worth about R20 million ($1.9 million) escalated when Mandela asked his then-lawyer Ismail Ayob to babysit his children and act as the co-director or trustee with them. But Mandela and Ayob had a fallout, forcing Mandela to replace him with his long-time friend, George Bizos.

"Mandela had wanted the children to gain control of his money only after his death but Ayob wanted to hand over control (to the children) immediately after their falling out," said the family friend. "But Mandela said, 'No, they will spend the money.'" 

Mandela’s granddaughters, Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini, launched a line of shirts, tops and hats under their brand named after his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom.” They also starred in a reality television show called “Being Mandela” following the two sisters who gave viewers an inside look at their lives.

In 2010, Madiba’s oldest living child, Makaziwe Mandela started a wine label, House of Mandela, with her daughter, telling a South African daily newspaper that: “The driving force for us is not only to get into the wine as a commercial entity. This is about honoring all those who have gone before us.”

Another Madiba brand, rather more well-known than others, was launched a few years ago in New York at the South African consulate. The clothing line 46664 run by the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The number represents Mandela’s prisoner number on Robben Island. The clothing brand currently has a pop-up store in South Africa’s upmarket shopping center, Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton City, in Johannesburg. The brand is also sold in various department stores.

The Foundation became Mandela's post-presidential office where he could continue his charitable work, covering a wide range of endeavors including building schools, HIV/AIDS work and doing research into education in rural areas as well as peace and reconciliation interventions. 

“Brands and products controlled through the foundation help sustain the foundation. They can’t exist from just handouts,” says Sampson.

But those far from the Madiba family don’t want to be left out in the rush to make a quick buck. Hours after news of his passing was announced, a book store in Maputo, Mozambique had lined Mandela books along its display window like those in South Africa and abroad. 

Photo: Courtesy of Nelson Mandela Foundation

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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