In 1999, Daimler AG initiated the Mercedes-Benz Award for South African Art and Culture, thereby founding one of the most prestigious cultural Awards in South Africa until 2010. The Award had been established to give young people working creatively in the field of culture their first international exposure as well as encouraging substantial presentations in their country. The Award was presented annually, each year in a different category. The categories 2000 to 2010 have been Art, Jazz, Sculpture, Choreography, Photography, Poetry, Art Projects in Public Spaces and Fashion.
Until 2010, circa 100 nominees reached the selection process. These nominees in the various categories represented an essential core of South African art and culture in the first decade of the 21st century.
The procedure has been first to convene a preliminary Selection panel composed of ten representatives from each respective discipline, who are working in South Africa, invited on a quota basis that reflects the social and cultural composition of South Africa. This Selection panel proposed between eight and ten nominees (as joint nominations lead to a reduction in the final number). The next step was to organise a public presentation, after which a second Jury panel, composed of local and international jurors, selected the winner. This procedure assured a high level of interaction and expertise.
In 2000, the first award went to the Johannesburg artist Kay Hassan. The jazz musician Themba Mkhize won the Mercedes-Benz Award in 2001, and the artist Jane Alexander was awarded in the field of South African Sculpture in 2002. In 2003 the Mercedes-Benz Award went to the choreographer Sbo Ndaba, and the photographer Guy Tillim won it in 2004, Tillim has since then been recognized as one of the leading contemporary photographers, his photos series were shown e.g. at the São Paulo Biennale 2006 and documenta Kassel 2007. In 2005 Gabeba Baderoon accepted the Award for South African Poetry, linked with a reading in Berlin and a publication. The 2007 the Award in the Architecture field went to the Cape Town-based architect Heinrich Wolff and in 2008, the award went to Kevin Brand for Art Projects in Public Spaces. In 2009, the award for South African fashion design (clothing) announced the Johannesburg label Black Coffee (Jacques van der Watt und Daniça Lepen) as the winning label.
As part of their prize, all award winners were invited to exhibit in Berlin, thereby presenting their work to a larger international audience. Exhibitions also took place in various South African cities.