Icons of the South

What does the South have to offer the world with regards icons?

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The recent 35th Anniversary issue of Rolling Stone magazine was dedicated to American Icons, and paid homage to brands that have global reach and appeal. It included Nike, Starbucks, IBM, Apple, Coca-Cola and a host of usual suspects, as well as products like the Mustang Convertible and Harley Davidson. It set us thinking about what the South has to offer the world as regards icons.

While we may not have commercial icons of the scale and circumstance of Nike, we have images that have global reach and renown. For example, the Yin-Yang symbol which represents duality, and has been adopted the world over. Or iconic figures like Mandela and Gandhi. Or rising brands like Samsung (fastest growing brand in the world, according to a BusinessWeek survey) and Hyundai.

The question is: What would be on your list? Meanwhile, we proffer these as representatives of Icons of the South.

Ché Guevara

Ché chic lives on! From North to South, the revolutionary Ché Guevara, has become the quintessential rebel poster boy: his image lives as graffiti, on T-shirts, as a college poster standard, and even as tattoos on the bodies of Mike Tyson and Diego Maradona. Recently Madonna imitated his look with the cover of her album, American Life. The famous image of Ché, was courtesy of Cuban photographer, Alberto Korda, and dates back to 1960. But what is it about Guevara that keeps the legend alive over 30 years after his death? It must be more than his dashing good looks and that he looks cool in a beret. Some say that it's his passion, his beliefs and his idealism. That he lived his dream, tried to help the abused and died for his ideals. We know that his writings have become essential manuals for revolution - and was recommended reading through Latin America and Africa in the struggles for independence.

Nelson Mandela

We are blessed because you have walked along the road of our heroes and heroines.

For centuries our African sky has been dark with suffering and foreboding.

But because we have never surrendered, for centuries the menace in our African sky has been brightened by the light of our stars.
The sense of wonder still pervades our ranks that out of the tumult and the babble of tongues, the veiled enmities and the bloodless wars, there could have arisen over our devastated land, out of this house, with its own history, the sun of hope.

Though standing like little giants, because we stand on your shoulders and other of your generation, we must proclaim it to the world that here, in these houses of the law-givers, we have striven to do the right things, because we have done otherwise would have been to condemn ourselves to carry, for all time, the burden of having insulted all the sacrifices you made.

On the 10th of May, 10 years ago, you stood in front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria to proclaim to the universe that the sun could never set on so glorious a human achievement as was celebrated that day. Black and White South Africans had, at last, arrived at the point when, together, they could say: Let us nurture our arts, and not our corruption. Let us communicate morality, and not our vices. Let us advance science, and not our dogmas. Let us advance civilization, and not abuse.

After a long walk, we too have arrived at the starting point of a new journey.

We have you, Madiba, as our nearest and brightest star to guide us on our way.

We will not get lost. - Thabo Mbeki

Steve Biko

Steve 'Bantu' Biko died because of his insatiable quest for South African's liberation and freedom from the chain of oppression. He started the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa to liberate black people from their own psychological oppression. The idea was to undermine the strategy of divide-and-rule, to create pride among black South Africans and confidence in their ability to throw off oppression. This was in direct defiance of the Apartheid propaganda, which taught that blacks were inferior, second-class citizens. Despite the struggle for freedom, Biko always stayed hopeful: "In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift - a more human face." When Steve Biko died in detention at the age of 31, he left behind him not just a political movement, but also a liberating mirror for black South African men and women.

Mahatma Gandhi

Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Su Kyi, the Dalai Lama are all icons of the modern age. Who was their icon? Gandhi. Between them, South Africa and India gave the world Mahatma Gandhi. And what did Gandhi give the world? Non-Violence by which justice could be achieved for oppressed peoples without loss of blood or life. Transparency by which, politics could be made consistent with honesty. Self-reliance by which, individuals, villages or nations could live on their own resources. Dialogue by which, one religion or culture could listen to and collaborate with another simplicity by which humans could treat gently on this earth we share with other spaces.
- Ramachandra Guha

Commercial brands

Look at the top 50 or so brands in the USA or UK and it comes as a shock to see the similarities. It's a surprise to many that 25% were launched prior to the year 1900, 33% between 1901 and 1949, 32% between 1950 and 1979 and only 10% between 1980 and today. The figures in South Africa, are along the lines of 25%, 42%, 26% and 5%. So lots of major brands launched before 1900, things like Mrs Balls, Pecks Anchovette, Castle Lager, Bakers Biscuits and Clover dairy products.

In 1996 the Interbrand publication: The World's Greatest Brands, published by Interbrand listed three South African brands: Outspan, Krugerrand and Oil of Olay (now owned by P&G). But the figures do highlight the lack of new brands hitting the local scene in the last twenty years or so. For me, South Africa's icon brand is Sunlight, the way it has kept its origins but evolved, used by South Africans in all walks of life throughout the country. The best brand-building over the past decade could be Vodacom, certainly one of South Africa's most valuable brands of all time. And two icons to ponder: Madiba's face and Cape Town's Table Mountain.
- Jeremy Sampson, Interbrand Sampson

In the home it is indispensable across several categories, for everyone, whoever you are.

Relentless growth, empowering everyone, the jewel in Telkom's crown (it owns 50% remember).

Outspan a brand in decline? And not sourced purely from South Africa anymore. But then in branding terms, countries of origin are largely passé. Question: how many countries supply 'Cape' apples - you could be in for a surprise!

Oil of Olay
With the huge resources of Procter & Gamble firmly behind it, a global superbrand adapted to different parts of the world i.e.. Oil of Olez in the Spanish speaking world.

The Kruger Rand

The discovery of the main gold reef in 1886 in Johannesburg changed the face of history in South Africa, and the shimmering beauty of gold captivated all. With the Kruger Rand first minted in 1967, these ounces of gold are still a collector's dream. A single Kruger Rand can be drawn into a wire 80 kilometres long or hammered into a sheet of one hundred square feet. So why is it an icon of the South? Simple: just like the South, gold never tarnishes, it shines forever, and has universal appeal. 


Greetings in the name of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, Jah Rastafari Holy Emmanuel I King Selassie I...John Marcus Mosiah Garvey I. I and I who have the overstanding that the colours is a livication of Jah. So brethren and sistren chant with I, and be irie

Rally round the flag*
Rally round the red, gold, black and green…
Red for the blood that flowed like a river
Green for the land of Africa
Yellow for the gold that they stole
Black for the people that they looted from

Glossary: note that italics were applied to words in the Rastafarian language idiom: "I and I" is used in place of the word "we" and is used to overcome a perceived separateness in the use of the terms "you" and "me"; "Overstanding" replaces understanding to denote an enlightenment which places one in a better position; "Irie" is a term use to denote acceptance, positive feelings or to describe something that is good; "Jah" is the common name which Rastas call their deified god-hero Haile Sellassie I; "Livication" is substituted for the word "dedication" - Rastas associate dedication with death (Source: Beerwolf© and the Humble Dutchie Creations). *Words of chant from song by David Hinds, which has become a rallying anthem for Rasta nationalists, "Rally Round the Flag".

Yin & Yang

Yin Yang, sunny shade, light dark, warm cold. A series of complimentary opposites, is the way Taoists refer to our universe. Under Yang are the principles of maleness and the sun and under Yin are the principles of femaleness and the moon. Each of these opposites produce the other: One cannot exist without the other and fulfilment is never reached alone. Like the North and South. Two parts of the same. And like this circle - inextricably linked, from now to eternity.

"Opulence and poverty, north and south. Never do they face off under conditions of equality - not in football nor in anything else, no matter how democratic the world claims to be. If the truth be told, there is only one place where north and south are on equal footing: the pitch at Fazendinha, a town on the banks of the Amazon in Brazil. The equator cuts the pitch in two, so each team plays one half in the southern hemisphere and the other half in the northern. But it's true. Despite all the despites, football is a universal passion. The art of the foot that makes the ball laugh or cry speaks a common language in all the countries and cultures of the north and south, east and west."
- Eduardo Galeano

Diego Maradona

A few words about Diego Armando Maradona. A few words, a few questions. As often occurs with questions, they may only be answered with more questions: The popular heros who contain other people, the ones who carry millions inside them, are they the loneliest of all? Is Maradona filled with everyone and accompanied by no one? What is he running away from? The dogs of fame that he himself calls at the top of his lungs? Is he running in circles, pursued by the fame he pursues? Exhausted by it, stifled by it, can he no longer live because of it? Can he live without it? The fame that avenged his poverty and rescued him from scorn? Is Maradona addicted to cocaine or to success? Is there a clinic somewhere that cures such victims? Does Maradona refuse to retire because he refuses to die? Can't he watch games instead of playing them? Is it impossible to return to the crowd from which he came? Can't he accept that the days are gone when his adversaries didn't know whether to mark him or to ask for his autograph? Can't he accept a graceful ending to his triumphant career? Can't he stop forever talking as if he were trying to score goals with his mouth? Can't he stop working as if he were god of the stadiums? Are idols, like gods, condemned to burn up in their own flames? Must the winner inevitably be sacrificed, as in the ancient Aztec ball game, an offering to the crowd who loves him and demands him and devours him? Don't we all owe some understanding and gratitude to this rebel footballer who fought so hard for the dignity of his trade and has given us so much beauty? - Eduardo Galeano: Football, Myth and Reality


If football is the global language, then Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, was an awesome orator. There is no disputing that he was the king of football for close to two decades. He brought an athleticism and unbridled joy to the game. In winning three World Cup medals with the uberteam, Brazil, Pele received world renown. Together with Ali, he was the first black sporting icon to have a global reach.

Like Galeano adds: Inside some footballers, multitudes play. They contain immense crowds, whose fortune or misfortune depends on the player's legs. And when the discriminated, the scorned, the condemned-to-eternal-failure recognise themselves in the success of a solitary hero, their sense of collective hope pulses in his moment of triumph. Even if he doesn't want it, even if he doesn't know it, his feats take on symbolic value, and through them the trampled dignity of many shines as if it had never been defeated.