As culture evolves and our heritage takes on different forms of celebration, it would be remiss to ignore the brands that play a supporting role in the narrative of South African life.
Heritage Day has a reputation of being one of South Africa’s more colourful public holidays. Outside of traditional weddings, it’s the day when you’re likely to see the country’s people adorned in their cultural clothing. Xibelanes and beads, Ndebele prints and bangles, the opulent sari dresses, the ever-iconic leopard print vests and even Springbok jerseys make it onto the corridors of workplaces and schools alike – a kaleidoscope of the rich heritage that south Africa is made up of.
Like most occasions, the day doesn’t come without its politics. Every year there is, without fail, a fight on social media about the importance of protecting the celebration of African heritage versus reducing it to ‘braai day’. Mostly it seems we agree that braaiing is part of the country’s heritage, but that it cannot and does not negate or overshadow other cultures. And few would disagree that a heritage as rich as ours deserves more than just one day of celebration.
As much as traditional dress and customs make up part of our heritage, they do not stand alone. They are flanked by food and music, and brands that exist within our culture, helping to shape the celebration of our heritage. The link between those brands and the evolving culture of the country makes for an interesting love affair.
It’s apparent to us that South Africa has a number of strong heritage brands that we dearly hold on to. Brands such as Freshpak Rooibos, Iwisa maize meal, Zam-Buk and the Sunlight green bar and many more are as much as a part of the tapestry of South African heritage as, for example, Maskandi music is.
Is there a ceremony or gathering without the sight of women gathered cooking Tastic rice, Iwisa maize meal or Imbo Mngqusho? Very rarely. A stokvel, church gathering or funeral preparation without Joko or Five Roses tea? Absolutely not. Just like Castle crates are part of the picture; doubling up as make shift chairs for some of our fondest memories.
It’s this nostalgia that is passed down from generation to generation, when we see these brands morph and become the way of life – rooted in our culture that we cannot fathom of a life without them.
Brands and heritage
It was with this in mind that we decided to play on the ever-evolving culture of South Africans and the brands they love. Sunlight green bar was the quiet but distinct companion in many black homes. It did the amazing job of getting the laundry clean, keeping family members’ complexion clear and sometimes even being used as a lubricant for i-spuit (enema) – those who know, know. These days, some of the same children that associate Sunlight with simpler times at their grandmother’s house continue to bring that brand into their homes. A far distance and reality from where they fell in love with the brand, its consistency remains; it’s always there.
To celebrate a small part of our country’s heritage, we commissioned illustrators to create pieces that showcased a few of the brands we know South Africans love and interact with every day. Brands that we ourselves grew up with and continue to cherish to this day. Brands whose stories we want to tell and cement in the future of South Africa’s heritage.
Part of the magic of South Africans and what we take with us as we go about our journeys is that we love finding common ground that helps us bond. Call it ubuntu or maybe the open heartedness that most people still have despite the many challenges we face as a country, we are a loyal bunch. Once we buy into a brand, we really buy into it. The brands that stay with us through different iterations of our lives, are likely to stand the test of time. And we take them with us whether we are going “back home” for an event or as we make our way through the maze of city life and the promises of success.
The job is never done though, because a brand that doesn’t keep up with its ever-evolving market, will soon fade with a generation and a way of life that is destined to change.
Cuma Pantshwa and Zama Nkosi-Mabuye are the founders and directors of Asante Blush, an agency designed to serve and help brands and organisations elevate women’s voices.
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