Brand South Africa: year in review 2017

It has been a storied year for the country, and for Brand South Africa. It started with a new chair at the African Union and passed many milestones along the way: from the deaths of musicians to the growth of women in an entrepreneurial world, among others, all underscored by the celebration of the centenary of the birth of OR Tambo.

girl launch book buhle mthethwa
Buhle Mthethwa started writing The Big Fat Naughty Cat when she was nine years old. (Image supplied)

Brand South Africa reporter

As always, it has been an interesting year in South Africa, one of uplift and some hardship. It has been a year of new beginnings and renewals, as well as endings. It’s been a year in which we have celebrated female entrepreneurs, children have embraced the digital world and we have all rejoiced as South African films and actors have made an impression internationally.

We look back at the some of the stories that shaped 2017.

The year began with change, with Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat replacing South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the chairperson of the African Union. We also took time out to introduce South Africa to The Skyscrapers, a Cape Town trio of pre-teen musicians taking South Africa by storm with their catchy pop music.

January ended with the sad news of the death of South African gospel star Lundi Tyamara. His life, filled with tragedy and struggle, inspired the fans of the prince of South African gospel.

Lundi Tyamara
Lundi Tyamara was one of the biggest selling gospel artists in South Africa, selling over 3 million albums. Tyamara died, aged 38, on 27 January 2017. (Image: Gallo Music)

In February, we celebrated female entrepreneurs changing the face of their sectors. Mosibudi Makgato and Rosemary Padi’s YaMama Ginger Beer is winning fans looking for a truly African take on an old favourite.

yamama gemmer founders
Mosibudi Makgato and Rosemary Padi, founders of YaMama Gemmer, want to distribute their traditional ginger beer internationally. “Our product must be something that is on tourists’ list to get whenever they come to South Africa.” (Image: Melissa Javan)

In the traditionally white and male mining sector, Daphne Mashile-Nkosi continued to break new ground for women.

March was a month of news good and sad for South Africa. We crowned a new Miss SA, who went on to win the Miss Universe crown in November. Route 62, the drive from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn, was also named the best and most scenic roadtrip in the world by CNN Travel.

Miss South Africa Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters is crowned Miss Universe in Las Vegas on 27 November 2017. (Image: Miss Universe website)

It was also the month in which we said goodbye to two people who changed the world in their own inherent way. Early in the month, celebrated actor Joe Mafela was killed in a road accident, and the month ended with the death of former Rivonia trialist and anti-apartheid struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada.

Freedom Day came in April, a time to reflect on how far we had come as a nation and to celebrate those who helped its birth. We celebrated the lesser known heroes of our liberation, as well as pioneering medical researcher, Dr Glenda Gray, showing the world our good story.

The more things change the more they stay the same. In May, we visited two education initiatives that celebrate old and new South Africa. In Umlazi, eThekwini, NPO Codemakers began a project to help learners understand computer programme coding. May is also Africa Month, and we celebrated the first batch of North West University indigenous knowledge systems graduates. The dancers went on to win international acclaim later in the year, but in May we attended the ATKV Riel Dance Competition.

RooiRots Riel Dancers
The RooiRots Riel Dancers from Elizabethfontein.

In June, we met some of the  most inspiring people in the country. From a youthful neurosurgeon to an urban farmer and entrepreneur changing his community using the humble vegetable, spinach, as well as a grandmother showing young explorers the beauty of Africa, we discovered them.

Entrepreneur Lufefe Nomjana is using spinach to build his business and promote healthy living
Entrepreneur Lufefe Nomjana (Image: Spinach King / Espinaca Innovations)

However, whatever else was happening in June, the country came to a standstill for the Comrades Marathon.

As did the rest of the world, the following month South Africans celebrated the legacy of Nelson Mandela by devoting 67 minutes of their day to give back in his name. This year, Brand South Africa joined the men’s national hockey team volunteering at the New Jerusalem Children’s Home in Johannesburg.

inxeba isiXhosa movie
Inxeba, also known as The Wound, had its African premiere at the 38th Durban International Film Festival in July. It opens in South African theatres in February 2017. (Image: YouTube)

We celebrated the success of isiXhosa movie Inxeba, which movingly explores the conflict of traditional rites of manhood, when initiates “go to the mountain”, with awakening pride in gay identity. And we cheered the success of the women-led Social Coding programme, initiatives to teach girls about coding and inspire them to become innovators. In July, Unesco’s World Heritage Committee also took the decision to list ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape as a world heritage site.

The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is inscribed as a world heritage site in July 2017. (Image: Francois Odendaal Productions, via Unesco)

Sadly, legendary South African guitarist Ray Phiri died of cancer at the age of 70.

South African guitarist Ray Phiri died on 12 July 2017 following a battle with lung cancer
Ray Phiri was best known for his work with the legendary South African band Stimela and his collaborations with US singer Paul Simon. The self-taught guitarist and singer died in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, on 12 July 2017, following a battle with lung cancer. (Image: Wikipedia)

In August, Brand South Africa launched its new Play Your Part television series. Broadcast weekly on SABC2, it explores active citizenship in South Africa. Once more women led the way as entrepreneurs and educators. Pretoria honey maker and bee keeper Mokgadi Mabela brought honey to South African homes while delegates at the Top Women Conference made it clear that women needed to lead the digital economy.

Of heroes, in KwaZulu-Natal they used a new global positioning app to bring medical services to townships and a new fictional superhero was born in Lagos.

Acclaimed science fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor creates new African character for Marvel Comics.
A panel from the forthcoming Blessing In Disguise Marvel comic book, featuring Ngozi, a Nigerian girl coming to grips with her new superpowers. The title was written by acclaimed science fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor. (Image: Marvel Comics)

Global South Africans did the country proud through September. Comedian Trevor Noah won an entertainment Emmy for his work on The Daily Show and singer Toya Delazy became the voice of the fourth Powerpuff Girl. Town planner Mthobisi Masinga was invited to present his innovative research on rural land development at the International Society for City and Regional Planners’ Annual Congress in Portland, while chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu’s new cookbook, Through The Eyes of an African Chef, proved successful at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Dr Meneses-Turino at work saving lives in Nepal. (Image: Gift of the Givers)

Also in September, world-renowned South African humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers quietly celebrated its 25th anniversary.

In this, the centenary of the birth of Oliver Reginald Tambo, South Africa feted the statesman by unveiling a statue in his honour at OR Tambo International Airport. We also remembered the stirring oratory he brought to the liberation struggle.

OR Tambo statue joburg airport
To honour the memory of late ANC president Oliver Tambo, a statue is unveiled at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on 19 October 2017, which was declared the Year of OR Tambo by the national government. (Image: Tambo Foundation, Twitter)

Brand South Africa was also recognised internationally through its nomination for a 2017 City Nation Place Awards in the Best Expression of Place Identity through Design category. With great stories to tell, such as commemorating Lucky Dube or acknowledging Ponte Tower’s place in architectural history, was it really that much of a surprise?

Watch South Africa's late reggae king in action in five of his biggest songs
Lucky Dube was one of South Africa’s best known and most successful musicians. He died on 18 October 2007. (Image: Gallo Music South Africa)

The agency celebrates the power of South Africans busy changing their world in big and small ways. In November, we lionised Nisha Varghese, an East London woman with cerebal palsy who works to help children born with clubfoot, and chef Chantel Dartnall, the best female chef in the world for 2017 and the only South African listed in the world’s top 100 chefs.

durban nisha varghese babies clubfoot
Nisha Varghese has an online campaign to raise money for at least 50 children who are born with clubfoot to get treatment. Varghese with her mother, Anne, and Play Your Part ambassador Catherine Constantinides (right). (Images supplied)

November was also set aside to celebrate entrepreneurs through the South African Premier Business Awards and the Top 20 Small Business and Entrepreneurship Awards.

We saved the most heartwarming story for last: in December, we spoke to Buhle Mthethwa, a 10-year-old girl on a mission to instil a culture of reading in her peers, one book at a time, starting with her own, The Big Fat Naughty Cat.

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