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Mandela glasses vandalism: A reminder of our turbulent history?

An associate professor says what the group is doing is an established form of activism called culture jamming.

Sea Point promenade’s Mandela-inspired glasses were vandalised by an activist group called Tokolos Stencil on 18 November 2014. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN.

CAPE TOWN - A University of Cape Town (UCT) professor says the vandalism of Sea Point promenade's Mandela-inspired sunglasses is an act of counter discourse by a group of political activists who are speaking directly to corporations about their dissatisfaction.

On Tuesday, the piece, created by artist Michael Elion in conjunction with the City of Cape Town as part of World Design Capital 2014, was tagged with "Remember Marikana".

The huge pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses is said to be a tribute to the late stalwart and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.

The culprits are Tokolos-Stencil, a South African anonymous radical art collective that uses stencil art to keep the memory of the 2012 Marikana mine massacre alive, disrupt colonial and apartheid statues, "terrorise the powers that be" and remind South Africans that if they want freedom and justice, they must be willing to fight for it.

The group has been active on Facebook since it was founded in December last year and has been tagging spots all over Cape Town's CBD.

Associate professor at UCT's Centre for Film and Media Studies, Adam Haupt, said what the group is doing is an established form of activism called culture jamming.

"Culture jamming is a way of speaking back to corporate with commercial messages. The real issue behind culture jamming is the unequal relationship of power between citizens in a supposed democracy and corporations."

He said Sea Point is special because despite the segregated history of Cape Town, people of all genders, races and cultures come together to unwind.

"And now what I see there is a giant Ray-Ban commercial that is partially funded by the public purse and I am thinking why is the public paying for an advertisement, why is the legacy of Nelson Mandela being hijacked to market Ray-Ban?"

He urged people not to think like consumers exclusively and said people should also think like critical citizens in a functional democracy.

"People below the margin don't have the means and they don't have the symbolic capital on that level. So when they deface a statue or stencil something on an object that offers a counter message that is a counter discourse."

Pictures: Facebook via Tokolos-Stencil group

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