December 13, 2013 6:15 pm

Business is buzzing in South Africa as ‘Brand Mandela’ profits from former president’s death

At a junction in one of Johannesburg’s affluent leafy suburbs on Friday two young men weave among cars waiting at a traffic light, hawking shiny, hologram-style portraits of Nelson Mandela that change colour as they move.

The asking price is 100 rands, or just under $10. “After Mandela passed away we bought these so people can have a memory of him,” says Tshepo Mabaso, 21, one of the street vendors.

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The pictures came from a Nigerian wholesaler and cost Mr Mabaso R35, or less than $3.50. They form a small part of what many have dubbed “Brand Mandela”, a growing industry profiting from the name of the former South African president.

Mandela, Madiba – the clan name by which he was affectionately known – and other names associated with the anti-apartheid leader are some of the most desired brands in the world, experts say.

With millions, and potentially billions, of dollars at play, control of Brand Mandela has in the past been a source of embarrassing Mandela family disputes publicly played out in South Africa’s courtrooms.

Politicians in South Africa and elsewhere have invoked the Mandela name in the battle for votes and unscrupulous businesspeople are trying to cash in too.

“It is going to represent a multibillion-dollar brand over the years,” says Dean Crutchfield, a New York-based independent brand expert who advises top US companies. “The brand is going to explode.”

Business is already buzzing. In the upmarket shopping malls of Johannesburg, the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s official clothing brand, 466/64, sells the colourful batik shirts favoured by the late president for R449.95. In Pretoria, as a 90,000-strong crowd queued to view Mandela as he lay in state, vendors were selling unofficial rugby shirts with his image, fist raised in his famous pose, for R150.

“All people are buying . . . They like all for Mandela,” says John Ncube, one of the vendors. “I only have these left,” he said clutching a few berets and bandannas emblazoned with Mandela’s name and the dates of his birth and death.

Allen Adamson, managing director at brand consultants Landor Associates in New York, said more people will want to associate themselves with Mandela’s name after the mass media coverage following his death. But he warned that “less is more”, adding: “If the Mandela name is plastered everywhere, the value will drop.”

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, set up in 1999, is the official custodian of Brand Mandela. The foundation receives on average 10 requests a week for licences. But brand experts believe that following the former president’s death and the global attention that his memorial triggered, requests will rocket. And so too will the illegal use of the name.

Oscar Yuan, vice-president at US-based Millward Brown Optimor, a brand consultancy, believes it will be virtually impossible to stop those using the name of Mandela fraudulently. “You cannot stop the T-shirts,” he says. But he adds that the family will need to think twice about the name’s overall use.

Mandela’s children and grandchildren – the statesman was married three times and has six children and 17 grandchildren – have not been averse to using the name for commercial enterprises. Two grandchildren have appeared in a US reality show entitled Being Mandela. One daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, and one of her daughters recently launched a wine business called House of Mandela. The company claims to follow the lofty ideals of Mandela and his ancestors.

“We are called to redefine our role and carry the ancient wisdom into everything we do, whether commercial or charitable”, the vineyard’s website says, showing pictures of Mandela’s family interspersed with images of bottles of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and shiraz.

Ms Mandela told the Financial Times this year it was not sacrilegious for the rightful owners to use the name of Mandela. “As long as we carry this legacy with integrity and dignity there’s nothing wrong at all,” she said.

But the disputes within the family, most notably legal battles earlier this year when Mandela was in hospital, worry many in South Africa. The hope is that lessons were learnt from the episode.

Pallo Jordan, a minister in Mandela’s cabinet from 1994 to 1999 and a senior official in the African National Congress, says: “I really do hope so, because all of those things were a huge embarrassment for everyone and not very helpful.”

The family appears to acknowledge that the eyes of South Africa are upon it. “We enter into a solemn covenant with you the people of our country, Africa and citizens of the world that we will be true to the values and ideals which Tata [Mandela] stood for”, said the family’s spokesperson, Lieutenant General Temba Matanzima.

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