The Mandela Brand – Commercialisation Gone Too Far?

Celebrated and honoured across the globe for its bearer’s selfless role in the liberation of South Africa, the name Nelson Mandela has become an iconic brand. The popular brand has inspired a clothing line, pricey artworks, countless cheap souvenirs, the recently announced ‘House of Mandela’ wine range, and more bizarrely, a reality TV show by his grandchildren. This has fuelled interesting debates over the use of his image.

As with all personality-based brands, guidelines are instilled to ensure that a brand stays true its roots. The Mandela brand guidelines are centred on Mr Mandela’s face not being placed on commercial products, and not being associated with tobacco and alcohol. However, with the introduction of the wine range, these guidelines have clearly been bent. His name has been sacrificed at the altar of crass commercialism by entrepreneurial Mandela family members.

The question becomes: where does one draw the line between popularising the brand, thus promoting the values its much-loved bearer espoused – freedom, peace and good neighbourliness across the globe – and profiteering that bears no resemblance to what the aged statesman stood for? Already, those who hold Mandela in high esteem are watching with dismay as dollar signs are tearing the family apart.

Verne Harris, head of the Mandela Foundation’s memory program said, “Wine may be alcohol, but the reality is that the Mandela surname is now carried by the younger Mandela generation who have taken to projects such as winemaking and reality television. The name Mandela doesn’t belong to Nelson Mandela anymore. It belongs to a family.”

How lame is that?

Lest we forget, the Mandela brand’s core values stood for the good of the people. The brand helped orphans, provided bursaries and helped HIV/Aids centres through its 46664 initiative.

How much more bending can the brand take from its core values in order to accommodate profit-driven initiatives for the Mandela family?

Leslie Sedibe, Proudly South African CEO, says that the best way for South Africans to pay tribute to Madiba is to ensure his legacy lives on. His legacy epitomises forgiveness, unity, 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.

This would be a far more meaningful form of taking ownership of the Mandela brand.


Written by Dineo Molaba