There are certain commonalities among Black South Africans that are quite undeniable.
We all have that uncle, who at every family gathering will drink too much but will certainly survive the night. Waking the next day, in roaring glory, to pour himself a morning drink.
Sunday is a sacred day, where we wake up early and get ready for church. Afterwards, a feast will be prepared with all the seven colours required on a plate.
We all played the same games on the streets of our hometowns, these classic pastimes are airborne, travelling coast to coast of our country.
Fill-the-bottle, shumphi, donkey, ujola noba, wemaDhlamini, and the list goes on.
Another commonality, is the connection we have to certain renown brands, infused into our history and take a supporting role in our collective memories.
Sunlight green bar soap. Lions Matches. Rooibos. Shoprite. Coca-Cola (used for every brand of soda). Vaseline. Chappies. Cavella.
We’ve all experienced these brands, could write testimonies of their wonders and recall moments in our childhood of their presence at various times. Upon assessing these brands’ influence, another, less empowering, realisation is that, even though, we feel like these brands belong to us, none of them actually do.
Sunlight is British owned, Chappies is British owned, Coca-Cola is American, Cavella is Italian, and the rest that may be South African are all owned by white people.
These incredibly important brands in our lives are not our own, and those who do claim ownership realize their cultural influence but do not contribute to the development of the middle class black people stuffed in the townships, who are loyal to them and have been for generations.
And why should they?
They are a business after all, and we are just numbers in their sales projections.
Being Black in South Africa means you own less than 10% of the country’s economy despite making up the majority of the state’s population.
These are painful truths that we need to rewrite by supporting small black-owned business, a difficult task, as it is easier to walk into Pick n Pay than to sift through the free market searching for brands owned by us.
But we have to.
Meanwhile, being represented by these brands we already know and love is also an important feat. One iconic brand that has been putting brown faces on billboards has been Vaseline; (owned by British-Dutch consumer goods company, Unilever). In 2017, they called upon self-proclaimed “cotton eater” Riky Rick, whose music continuously encapsulates the energies of South Africans, to become the ambassador for the skincare brand.
Recently, I decided to experiment with how the gel product could be depicted in a photo project blending brand and black beauty. In homage to Riky and the classic two word mantra he musically coined, I called it STAY SHINING.
Written, Photographed and Art Directed By: Negasi