Hong Kong travel agency told to pull front-page advert featuring Nelson Mandela

This photo illustration shows a front-page newspaper advertisement featuring an image of Nelson Mandela in Hong Kong on June 17, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP/PHILIPPE LOPEZ
This photo illustration shows a front-page newspaper advertisement featuring an image of Nelson Mandela in Hong Kong on June 17, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP/PHILIPPE LOPEZ

HONG KONG (AFP) - The South African consulate in Hong Kong on Tuesday told a travel company to immediately pull a front-page advertisement featuring an image of a fist-pumping Mr Nelson Mandela above the word "freedom".

The three-column advertisement by the online travel agency Zuji shows Mr Mandela in jubilant mood, echoing his historic release from 27 years of apartheid jail in 1990, on the front page of the English-language South China Morning Post.

The late Nobel Peace Prize laureate is sandwiched between images of multiple airplanes and hotels with the word "freedom" emblazoned underneath to advertise Zuji's global travel network.

But South African representatives in Hong Kong said the use of the stylised image - which also echoes the "Hope" poster of United States Barack Obama - was an infringement of copyright held by the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

"We have seen the advertisement and have been in touch with the company involved, because Nelson Mandela's image is never to be used for commercial use," political consul for the South African consulate Bryonie Guthrie told AFP. "In South Africa, even his own charities are discouraged from ever using his image for commercial use," she said, adding the advertisement was "quite strange".

Zuji was not immediately able to comment when contacted by AFP.

Ms Guthrie later added that the company had agreed to pull the ad, and no further action would be taken. But it was unclear whether Tuesday's image in the newspaper was a one-off or part of a sustained campaign.

After serving as the country's first black president from 1994 to 1999, Mr Mandela died on Dec 5 last year aged 95, after a long illness.

He is revered for overseeing South Africa's path from white minority rule to multi-racial elections without a descent into civil war and seen globally as a peace icon.

While Mr Mandela's name and image can be found on stadiums and streets to T-shirts and caps, his foundation is protective of misuse of its founder's brand.

Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron's auctioneering of face-time with Mr Mandela, and a book by Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso that claimed a foreword penned by the hero, both drew rebukes several years ago.

Last December, the foundation had 18 registered trademarks for legal action against inappropriate use, primarily for commercial exploitation.