21 Icons series captures the spirit of Ubuntu


After the unprecedented success of the first 21 Icons series, a collection of short films
based on extraordinary South Africans, a second season is airing on SABC3 each
Sunday as of 3 August. Each of the 21 episodes features an iconic subject who has
not only contributed to and embraced the country’s transformation, but has positively
impacted and influenced their community.

What began as a series of portrait posters has flourished into a cross-media narrative
about South African history and culture, as well as a social initiative aimed at creating
conversation, participation and further cohesion in the Rainbow Nation.

“A robust society is one which understands itself,’ says Adrian Steirn, an Australian
photographer who moved to South Africa in 2008 after falling in love with the country
and its people after a number of visits. “Nelson Mandela’s legacy is community, and
embracing the person next to you is a celebration of his life. You don’t laugh, cry, live
or taste alone – you experience things as a community. There is no better way of
understanding the fundamentals of humanity than by having these
Yongama Magida, network marketing and on-air manager for SABC TV says the series
is a reflection of what the channel aims to drive. “21 Icons is a celebration of ordinary
people who have extraordinary stories to tell. It offers a strong moral take-out and
can inform, educate and empower South Africans, which is something that strongly
aligns with the SABC3 mandate.’

Season Two’s icons include Imtiaz Solomon, founder of the Gift of the Givers
foundation; Francois Pienaar, former Springbok rugby captain; Frene Ginwala, the
first female speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa; Herman Mashaba, a
longstanding South African entrepreneur; and Albie Sachs who was appointed as
judge of the Constitutional Court by Mandela in 1994.

Sachs humourously comments: “Initially I thought – Eikhona to icons! I’ve spent my
life trying to get rid of the idea of icons and stereotypes. Yet I can see Adrian is using
technology and the media to tell very important stories. If I am helping, in a fun way,
to explore and promote that diversity, then for me, that’s the strength of doing this

“This series embodies the idea that I am a person because you are a person,’ he
adds, “It’s Ubuntu.’

Steirn claims he was surprised at the uptake of 21 Icons overseas. After shooting the
first series of portraits he travelled abroad and gave a number of media outlets,
including the London Times and Wall Street Journal, free access to the material on
the condition that they treat it with respect and showcase it in its entirety. As a result
21 Icons has been exposed to over 130 million people internationally.

For the second season Steirn says he is building on this approach: “We are working
with mobile and digital platforms like MXit, and in-taxi digital TV to ensure everyone
has opportunity to see the series. You don’t have to have a flat screen TV to get

21 Icons Season Two is sponsored by Mercedes Benz South Africa, Momentum Asset
Management, Nikon, Deloitte and the Department of Arts and Culture. “The project
struck a chord with us,’ says Mayur Bhana, divisional manager of corporate affairs for
Mercedes Benz South Africa, “it represents a culture of inspiration which resonates
with us. It shares the message that regardless of who you are, where you come from
or what your teacher told you, your destiny lies with you.’

Roll-out of the second season incorporates a number of awareness campaigns
encouraging important dialogue around these stories, including a new interactive
workshop for children. The 21 Icons exhibition is hosted at the Museum of African
Design in Johannesburg’s Maboneng Precinct, which has invited a selection of schools
to experience the exhibition at no charge.

Later this year, Season One’s portraits will be auctioned off and the proceeds will be
given to charities selected by each of the respective icons which participated. For
Steirn this is an especially important part of the project as it creates a perpetuating
and lasting societal contribution and positive impact on the country.

“Here in South Africa we don’t have a problem with happiness, we have a problem
with inequality. It’s an important distinction. Perhaps instead of aspiring to be a first
world democracy we should rather aspire to be ourselves,’ remarks Stein.


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