Vilakazi Street hosts democratisation of Mandela brand

Global media firms have invaded a string of houses on Vilakazi Street in Soweto to capture the best vibes coming out of South Africa’s celebration of its departed leader, Father of the Nation, Nelson Mandela.

This will see a couple of households who have accommodated elevated camera holding structures emerge with some considerable cash from Madiba’s last rite of passage thus exposing the carnival in the mourning for Mandela who died last Thursday, the 5th of December, at the age of 95. Preparation for the Mandela send-off has sparked a worldwide gaze and boosted the commercialisation of the brand Mandela. Entrepreneurs are cashing in from the power of the Mandela brand in Vilakazi Street and many other places across the country.

Media Tower in Vilakazi Street

Media set up to capture the Mandela Memorial vibes in Vilakazi Street, Soweto.

The Mandela brand has developed a powerful commercial side to it over the years, says branding specialist Festus Masekwameng. The executive creative director of Johannesburg headquartered marketing firm Mojo MotherRussia says “Right now the Mandela brand is at its most potent point partly benefiting from the worldwide media coverage and exposure.”

When descended onto Vilakazi Street on Sunday the 11th of December 2013, three days after Mandela’s death, the street hosting Mandela’s first house was turning into a construction site of sort. Scaffolding structures to host elevated cameras for media houses like AFP were coming up and a couple were already in place. People close to the situation calculate that these scaffolding structures may be attracting a fee of between R5000 and R10000 per day per house. For a house that has featured these media structures for the full ten days of Mandela Mourning, they may be looking at a cash injection of more than R50000 according estimation by people in the know.

These media structures are erected inside the yards of several houses lining Vilakazi Street and mainly around the Ngakane Street corner where the old Mandela House is located. From there they can capture multitudes of revellers, the toyi toyi (struggle songs chanting) that has visited Vilakazi Street since Thursday last week. Granted, this may be too much for households who are not in the Mandela business. For traders lining the street Mandela is big business. These vary from small scale, street corner traders to well organised businesses. One meticulous trader with all sorts of Mandela memorabilia told that “business was good”. He is meticulous for his foresight. He says when the Mandela new broke on Friday night he was well prepared, well stocked for the eventuality. The Mandela T shirts he has are selling like hot cakes hotcakes. Also caching in are the couple of makeshift kitchens, Tshisa Nyama, lining the Vilakazi Street pavement.

Masekwameng says the entrepreneurs such as those in Vilakazi Street show remarkable nimbleness. “They spotted a gap are providing a service that fulfils certain emotional needs for tourists and South Africans.”

The more organised enterprises include the famous dining spot Sakhumzi which was packed to the rafter over the past weekend. The same applied to other dining places on Vilakazi Street like Nambitha and Mandela’s Family Restaurant.

A scene outside the famous dining place Sakhumzi in Vilakazi Street, Soweto

A scene outside the famous dining place Sakhumzi in Vilakazi Street, Soweto

Mandela’s passing has brought extraordinary boom time for traders in Vilakazi Street which is set to last for a week. The crowds will continue streaming up until Mandela is laid to rest on the 15th of December 2013. Today, the 13th of December 2013, is most likely to become a bumper day as multitudes are expected to gather for the official Mandela Memorial at the nearby FNB Stadium and Orlando Stadium and then descend onto the first Mandela House on Vilakazi Street. Tradition suggests that Friday, Saturday and Sunday will also be bumper days.

In truth though, Vilakazi Street which has emerged into a vibrant tourist hub over the past few years is used to hosting such carnivals albeit in intervals of one day at a time. When Pretoria based rugby club Blue Bulls played in Orlando Stadium for the first time in May 2010, Vilakazi Street was painted white. Many Blue Bulls’ supporters, largely and traditionally drawn from the white population of South Africa ventured into Soweto social milieu for the first time. This group came to complement an emerging multiracial base of revellers which has visited Vilakazi Street over the past few years. The Blue Bulls feature was a precursor to the 2010 FIFA World Cup bonanza.

The entrepreneurship emerging around Vilakazi must be welcomed because it comes with a democratising (economic) feel, says Masekwameng. “Unlike the World Cup arrangement there are no regulatory barriers. Anyone can trade in Madiba’s name.” This fits the political origins of the brand.

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