Friday, July 16, 2010

Fools - an analogy of the distortion of history in a postwar era

Professor Njabulo Ndebele once boldly declared when victims spit upon victims, shouldn’t they be called fools? Well this has happened not far from my nose, in my own country. I have seen victims of a humanly degrading system called apartheid spit on other victims of a worse system. Apartheid victims who were stripped of their dignity as a people due to the colour of their skin have turned against victims of colonialism and are now seeing them as worthless, scavenging, illegal immigrants. This, the educated ilk termed xenophobia, hatred of one by another in its worst kind.

What has got my attention and made me hate the post apartheid South Africa power grabbing fiasco, is seeing victims of apartheid spitting upon other victims of apartheid in this South Africa. I guess this country being a child of the African continent is not immune to some of the hereditary ills of the continent. Most African countries, post colonialism or tyranny, have a tendency of taking three steps forward and two steps back.

My point here is the following, and I am not going to apologise for it, Nelson Mandela is not the only liberator of South Africa. ANC cadres are not the only liberators of South Africa.

It is a pity that South Africans have come to accept that half a truth is better than no truth at all. It is for this reason many of my countrymen have come to understand and accept Madiba and/or the ANC as the only liberator. That there my countrymen is absolute bull dust.

Before we begin a debate and you wanting to engage me on politics and political ideologies and credentials let me declare that I am not into one-sided politics. I never joined any political party neither did my mentor who happens to be my father. One thing though, I was taught to respect all political views especially those that spoke to the liberation of blacks and the abolishment of apartheid. I was taught not to follow anyone nor pledge my legions to any man blindly. I grew up with the philosophy that any black party fighting for the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa has got my attention and support, a view that I still hold dearly.

What has come in post apartheid era is rather disturbing. When we seek to reclaim the land of our forefathers, when we seek to rename municipalities, institutions, towns and streets, when we seek to tell stories of our liberators we have developed a tendency to stick to one movement. Rather I say we tend to dish half a plate instead of the full meal.

In as much as the June 16 protest is synonymous with Tsietsi Mashinini, we are yet to see a street named after him or a monument. The ruling party has gone out to financially and institutionally highjack the commemoration of the event. An event of national importance is now party branded and speakers will always come from the ruling party. This is the case with other events and individuals. While Solomon Mahlangu, Matthews Goniwe and others are celebrated, largely due to their affiliation with the ruling ANC, Tsietsi Mashinini, Steve Biko and Onkgopotse Tiro and others are cast to the political dustbin due to their affiliation with other political parties. It is in this light that I, being an African and a South African reject the notion that the ANC is the only liberator of the people and that Nelson Mandela is the chief liberator.

Robert Sobukwe had the apartheid system put in place the “Sobukwe clause” just to be able to keep him in jail. Japhta Masemola spent twenty nine years in Robben Island effectively making him the longest serving political prisoner in that gaol. Steve Biko, Onkgopotse Tiro and Tsietsi Mashinini inter alia contributed immensely to revolutionize young people many of whom left the country to join the armed struggle which was one of the tools used by the ANC to fight the apartheid regime. The memory of these and other struggle icons has been reduced to stories that their comrades, families and the media archives tell us. Other than that nothing would be heard of them and their contribution to the struggle for a democratic South Africa. These and other sons and daughters of the soil have their memory erased and sadly it is done by countrymen whom they fought alongside in the struggle. This has been a trend in some African states that achieved freedom long before South Africa. In Zimbabwe, Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU was obliterated and Nkomo himself became a persona non grata. In the former Zaire (now DRC), Patrice Lumumba was sold to the Belgian authorities by people he fought side by side with.

As we embark on process of re-writing our history for the sake of our children let’s not make the blatant ‘mistake’ of the former regime and only tell a distorted version. Let us boldly tell all the stories of our heroes and heroines so that our children and their children will cherish everyone’s contribution to the struggle for a better South Africa.

When we distort our history, when we seek to write off the contribution our fellow countrymen made against apartheid, when we as victims of apartheid seek to ignore the contribution of other victims of apartheid, we should be careful in that history will judge us as fools.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Today it feels good to be an African

I am smiling, yes I have a ‘stupid grin’ in my face. A day after the closing ceremony of the biggest and probably the best sporting spectacle in the world hosted in my country, I cannot help it by smile with a sense of pride. I look at all South Africans today and say to myself “you beauty!”

I do not care that television scheduling at the national broadcaster will be back to showing reruns of everything under the sun, including the world cup. I do not care that our news will be hogged by one imbecile, turned hero for the poor, who is called Julius Malema. Hey I do not care that the police will no longer be visible and the opposition party in parliament will be shouting crime, crime and selling the story to British and Australian media. I do not care that the public transport system is now back to normal and a 15 minute trip will take you one and a half hour. In fact today and going forward it will take more than Malema fuming at a British reporter to wipe off the smiley stupid grin of my face.

As we bid our visitors goodbye, as images of my beautiful country are beamed across the world, as the unofficial national football symbol-the vuvuzela-is making a stride in international markets I feel like borrowing some lines from former President Thabo Mbeki’s poetic speech. Today it feels good to be an African. It feels good that I can stand here as a South African….to say….to the millions who made an input into the processes we are concluding… the unseen stars who shone unseen as the management and administration…….the advisers, experts and publicists, to the mass communication media, to our friends across the globe - congratulations and well done!”

Take a bow fellow South Africans. Take a bow Africa for you were once this dark sheep and skunk of the world and today you stand in the brink of being the greatest host. Today Africa you are well on your way back to your former glory, that of being the cradle of humankind and humanity – ubuntu.

Nay-sayers will be back to their old self and telling us of how much has been wasted in hosting the tournament but as Africans we need to remind all and sundry that when you host a visitor you do not tally the costs but instead you look at how will this in a long run benefit your children and their children and even your clan, your tribe and your nation. So I am not looking at the fact that neither I nor my neighbours are instant millionaires since the start of the world cup but I am thinking of my nephew who is doing his first year at varsity and my neighbours’ kids who are still in the schooling system. I am thinking that all the good stories and footage that was streamed from South Africa, and most importantly Africa, will encourage foreign investment that will enable my nephew and other African children the opportunity to be employed or to engage with foreign investors to be their business partners.

So in a spirit penned out by Alfred Lord Tennyson; “Cannon to right of them; Cannon to left of them; Cannon in front of the; Volley’d and thunder’d; Storm’d at with shot and shell; boldly they rode….”, let us charge forth and boldly declared to the world that we cannot accept being labeled the dark continent. Let us stand in world circles and demand the right to host international events be it in sporting codes, in government spheres and the business sector.

As I write this piece I am filled with motions and proud of what Africa has done for the past month. No machetes, no AK-47s; no coup de tats and none of the ills that have come to be associated with Africa during this period where we hosted the world.

I end this note with a note from that great African son, Thabo Mbeki: “This thing that we have done today, in this small corner of a great continent that has contributed so decisively to the evolution of humanity says that Africa reaffirms that she is continuing her rise from the ashes. Whatever the setbacks of the moment, nothing can stop us now! Whatever the difficulties, Africa shall be at peace!
However improbable it may sound to the skeptics, Africa will prosper! Whoever we may be, whatever our immediate interest, however much we carry baggage from our past, however much we have been caught by the fashion of cynicism and loss of faith in the capacity of the people, let us err today and say - nothing can stop us now!”

Thank you, thank you and thank you my people.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Brand elements not connecting - marketing lessons from the 2010 soccer hype

I am not an avid sports person, let alone a soccer fan, and so I am not going to write about the nitty-gritty of sport. With the 2010 FIFA World Cup in our backyard, I have been fascinated by the shenanigans in the football world and how one can draw lessons on marketing from the beautiful game.

The hype around the soccer world cup and, more especially our national team Bafana Bafana and the performance of the latter in the field of play, has got me asking: what happens when the brand fails to connect to other brand elements? Such a situation must surely be every marketer's nightmare - a product which does not live up to its promise, as well as link up with its official representative ie the brand ambassador.

A lot of marketing exposure

The South African national soccer team received a lot of marketing exposure during the run-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

First, calls were made by various high profile people on the nation to rally behind the national soccer brand. At the height of the national support drive we saw towns virtually coming to a standstill and patriotic companies giving workers time off to go out and show their support for Bafana Bafana. Secondly, we had 23 selected players who had the responsibility of acting as official brand ambassadors. Thirdly, the marketers were also hard at work crafting the brand promise.

In all the build-up, the brand promise was that this time around the national team will give a performance above par as they had played a number of games without a loss and that the team would carry the hopes of all South Africa to the next round of the tournament.

With all the brand elements in place, all that was left was for the campaign to work its magic and the marketers would be putting a tick next to the 'very successful campaign' item in their check list. This looked like a fail-proof campaign. After all, many a time such campaigns have worked well with all brand elements connecting.

A case in point for such is the skin care and lingerie industries which have always applied what I have come to call the brand elevation triangle: linking the brand and the brand promise with a brand ambassador.

Brand almost compromised

Well, with the South African national soccer team, brand Bafana Bafana, it was a case of brand elevation with brand elements not connecting. After a successful brand promise had been crafted, with the height of it being that
fateful day where some cities were brought to a standstill, the brand ambassadors just failed to connect to the brand promise and as a result the brand itself was almost compromised when people started criticising it (the team).

Now for some marketers, this will go down as a lesson in the importance of having the brand elements talking to each other at all cost. It is for such reasons that I think a crash course of marketing should be given to all brand ambassadors, be it company employees, partners or paid endorsers. Such people should know and even exhale the brand promise; they should also identify with the brand. This will make sure that they don't only sound and look like paid faces but they also believe in the brand and what it promises to encourage others to believe in it, too.

What we normally see is people being paid to say what they most probably do not believe in or, in the case of soccer, paid to play for a national brand while they might not believe in the brand's capability of advancing to the next stage of a tournament. At the end of the day you have a situation where the brand dots are not connecting; the brand ambassador is just in it for the money and at the end the brand message is not promoted or sold accordingly.

Endorsement deals

How many endorsement deals did not materialise just because the brand elements did not connect? The Audi scenario with a popular DJ comes to mind. Did the jock understand what Audi as a brand stands for, what its brand promise is? I do not think it was "drive way above the speed limit and break the law to experience the vorsprung durch Technik".

I once watched a rugby match and saw the Springboks captain's face covered in bruises and blood. Yes, one might argue that rugby is a full contact sport and that players will come out of it bruised and what not. The only thought that crossed my mind then was that the captain and his players understood and believed in the brand promise and, as brand ambassadors, they were prepared to go out there and aggressively promote the brand.

So, in the end, you have all the elements connecting and that is why you have the Springboks brand sitting as one of the top brands in the rugby fraternity. When it comes to Brand Bafana, its brand promise and the brand ambassadors, I personally think that the dots of these elements just failed to connect.

Like I said, I am not an avid sports junkie but the soccer world cup has presented a range of marketing lessons for me. Now let's see what the next stage of the tournament brings

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

It’s mediocrity we love

Call me a skeptic. Call me a nay-sayer. Call me un-patriotic, in fact call me by whatever title that’s on top of your vocabulary and I will tell you I don’t care but I still firmly hold on to my opinion that our country (the hyped up rainbow nation) loves and applauds mediocrity. There I have said it.

I am an African and I am a patriotic South African. Before you talk about my being counter revolutionary I would like to tell you that I am part of the multitude of young people who would join in on a march and toyi-toyi my way to God knows where. I love my country but I hate the fact that we always think losing is the best we need to achieve. This seems to be the prevalent case when we are participating in sporting codes and other forms of competitive activities in the international arena. Case in point is the recent bombing out of the national soccer team during the soccer world cup. Bafana Bafana needed to progress at least to the second round of the tournament, this was also emphasized by the FIFA president Sepp Blatter in the run up to the world cup. The team went on to draw one game and lose one and on the third game they needed to win by a good margin in order to qualify for the next round. The chance to progress to the next round was there for the taking and the team just didn’t live up to that. Yes they won the game but still failed to qualify and the whole nation, even the president of the country, came out and said the team has done South Africa proud and how proud they are of the team. Speak for yourselves. Other people were even speaking of how in the next world cup the team will do better. That right there for me is applauding mediocrity at its best.

Let me remind you that we are hosting and as is there has been no host that failed to progress to the next level of the tournament in eighty years. In eighty years we become the first team that fails to progress to the next level and the whole country applauds that, hayi-bo that’s down right pathetic!

As for the team, they had an incentive of one million rands per goal on top of their normal call up and match fee from the football association. Had the team scored the required number of goals they would have at least walked away with five million rands, which would equate to about two hundred and seventeen thousand rands per player excluding the match and appearance fees. What other motivation could they need, another world cup in four years?

With that being said we cannot blame the current crop of players. The last squad to represent the country in a world cup also came within grasp of a spot in the second round and they were awarded with a call to parliament and breakfast with the president. Again the promise was to do better in the next world cup and yes this was that appearance and nothing came of it.

This is not only in soccer lest you say I am a sore loser as per Bafana’s failure. Athletics as well, we send a huge team to compete at the IAAF and only three athletes come back with medals and they will be met by a ‘hired crowd’ at the airport and politicians looking to score points. In fact the rot has also set even in parastatals where executives will run government owned parastatals to the ground and they will be awarded with positions in other parastatals and golden handshakes.

To quote a friend we lack hunger to be the best” and yes you have it right there Mr. Mooketsi Sere. We just don’t want the best, we believe in what I call ‘settlements’. We just want to settle for a win against France rather than go all out and qualify for the second stage of the world cup. Like I said I love my country but I hate the fact that in the name of reconciliation, in the name of progress and all other educated terms we seem to adopt, we settle for less and uphold mediocrity. If it is coming out tops and forging ahead we shun, it is mediocrity we love and so much we do.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Zakumi, oh Zakumi wherefore art thou?

Big up to the street vendors and their fong kong South African flags and car mirror socks at every intersection. I know it’s not a bright idea to write an article about marketing and start off with a line that’s saluting counterfeit goods vendors. I think even the producers of the ‘fly the flag’ campaign owe credit to these entrepreneurs. As part of the SWC hype, the national flag is the most visible South African item and symbol in this period. If you look at it even big brands, including our official representatives to the football spectacle - Bafana Bafana, are playing second fiddle to the rainbow banner. From office blocks to private residences to vehicles to individuals attending a sporting event, you get the national flag either flying high or people wrapped in it.

Looking at the renewed sense of national pride people might be forgiven for saying surely the FIFA soccer world cup ™ has some good spin off for the country. On the contrary though I would like to say innovative local marketing has had a positive spin off for world cup. It is the South African flag that I see flying out there that has contributed extensively to the hype around the World Cup. This leads me to ask: Zakumi, oh Zakumi wherefore art thou Zakumi?

As the official mascot of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Zakumi is supposed to be at the forefront of creating hype around this spectacle, building and mobilizing support for the event. Kept in secrecy and launched with fanfare and termed as “the mascot with an attitude” and described by FIFA as “lively, outgoing, adventurous and spontaneous – a “shrewd little fellow”, Zakumi just became an object only seen on shelves at shopping malls and print adverts. With the countdown to the kick off at less than ten days there is no sight of the little fellow in all FIFA promotion events. In events where he is making an appearance Zakumi fails to live to the title of official mascot and motivate the crowd and create excitement for the event. In fact one would even think that for a “shrewd little fellow” he was told to behave. I am yet to see him carrying a vuvuzela which has also become a symbol of sport, especially soccer, in South Africa.

Mascots are supposed to be the iconic figures that set the event or team apart from the rest. They motivate the crowd, they please the children and add something to the event or the team that is very special.

I remember how the 2008 Beijing Olympics used mascots such as Fuwa and Lele who were an instant hit with children. Some of the clips I saw were of adults interacting with these fluffy and fury symbols. Our Zakumi seems to be a little shy of emulating what his kin are doing or did for other events and sporting codes. This is why I take my hat off in salute of the street vendor with his cheap version of the South African flag. They have managed to keep the world cup buzz alive. I take off my hat to individuals like Wendy Ramokgadi and his innovative ‘Diski dance’, a dance craze that integrates South African national points as well as local football styles in a clever choreographed routine. I must say I am yet to see the “young” Zakumi doing the Diski. I salute the innovative marketers who are die hard supporters of local soccer teams.

On the flip side one would note the stringent marketing rules that FIFA have used to barricade the world cup. Yes the football spectacle is a FIFA brand and as the custodians they should lay down the law and crack the whip where there is interference with their product. At the same time in order to ensure complete brand success or event success, the brand owners should also try and find brands on which to leverage on. In the case of the FIFA World Cup mascot, instead of creating Zakumi the mother body could have utilised the current local football human ‘mascots’ or number one supporters as they are called.

Nale ‘Mzion’ Mofokeng (Pirates), Botha Msila (Celtics), Robert ‘Mzekezeke’ Nkosi (Sundowns), Freddie ‘Saddam’ Maake (Chiefs), Gladys ‘First Lady’ Gailey (Ajax), Colin Nxumalo (Cosmos), and Ivan ‘Nyoni’ Geldart (Swallows) have become synonymous with the teams they represent and in a way have become the unofficial-official spokespersons. A local beer brand has used these mascots in getting supporters to rally behind the national squad and it’s working wonders if you ask me. What’s funny though is that during the national tour of the world cup trophy I spotted some of these mascots doing television interviews and no Zakumi on site, talk about sending a boy to do a man’s job.

Going back to the boardroom after the 2010 event FIFA will have to sit and take stock of how a marketing strategy should not be regarded as a universal tool that can be unpacked after every 3 years, dusted and applied to any situation and any country. For me and my clique of armchair critics, Zaka-zaka (Zakumi) was a marketing idea completely off the mark, so much for FIFA general secretary telling the world that “we are certain we will have a lot of fun with him in the lead-up to and during the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup”. So in building and marketing your brand in a foreign place, make sure not to make the mistake of writing off other brands that you can leverage on.

To the street vendors and their popular wares, to the hip and happening ‘Diski’ dancers, to the maverick soccer supporters in their funny and yet colourful club costumes, to you I take my hat off for teaching the world South African Marketing 101. The type of marketing that says: go to the people, live with them, learn from them, start with what they have and build on what they know.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A journey of a thousand miles begins.......................

Three decades and four years ago, exactly on this day a woman from a small town of Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape gave birth to a son at Baragwanath Hospital. She gave the boy the Scottish name: Donald (after St. Donald of the Domnhall clan), meaning world ruler. Although initially she had intended to name him Dominic she eventually decided against that because her friend already had a son named Dominic.

On the very same day her husband was driving home from work and a drunk stumbled from the side of the road and fell onto the car. People rushed to see the 'accident' and a mob wanted to attack him for having 'knocked down' a pedestrian. Policemen who happened to be passing by saw the mob gathered and thought it might be a political rally. Moving in to disperse the crowd they managed to save the driver from a mob who wanted justice against a "reckless driver". A section of the crowd testified that the man fell onto the car and as luck would have it the drunken pedestrian woke up reeking of alcohol and when asked if he is fine he blurted out insults to the police and the driver. The white policeman at the scene looked at the driver and said "go home this is your lucky day".

Upon arriving home this woman's husband wanted to tell every one of what had just happened but he was told that he has just been blessed with a son. Since he already had two daughters, he said "indeed this is my lucky day". He intended to name his son Nhlanhla, which is Zulu for Luck and since there was already a boy named Nhlanhla in the family he decided otherwise and used his wife's language to name his son: Thamsanqa. Thus started the life of Donald Thamsanqa Malinga, the brown stranger, world ruler, a man who would remain a mystery to many and be an influential leader within his family.

I take pride in the couple that gave me life and raised me, I always say "Ngizalwa yinsizwa nentombi". The journey of life is so amazing, i never knew and the thought never crossed my mind that i will come to dislike the week I was born, why you ask. My dad's birthday is four days prior to mine (21 March) and my mom's is just a few hours from mine (26 March) and both are now resting in the company of family and spiritual elders.

I write this pain in my heart but at the same time with a feeling of joy. I am crying not because I have lost hope and all but because I am happy at the way my parents and everyone in my proximity have raised me. I am grateful that my dad saw me through it all in life and saw me getting married and I know he will tell mother that. I am grateful for my wife, who is the voice of reason in my life, my siblings (especially my sisters Lindiwe and Lindelwa and cousin brother Muzikayise). I am grateful at the friends and everyone in my network.

The thousand miles journey that began three decades and four years ago is still on track and I invite you to come with me. HERE'S TO THE NEXT THREE DECADES AND FOUR YEARS of trials and most importantly tribulations.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Are men really masters of their own fate?

In the movie TROY, war hero Achilles is seen talking to his men as they sail to the beaches of the legendary city of Troy. With his sword pointed towards the beach he is quoted as saying "out there is immortality, go and grab it!”. The talk Achilles gave is depicted as having motivated his men to invade the beaches of Troy ahead of thousands of other Greek warriors and soldiers, mind you these men were only a handful as compared to the Trojan soldiers standing guard by the seashore. The quest for immortality perhaps drove them into a 'possible' suicide mission but still as it were in the movie these men led to the capture of the seashore by the invading forces. Why this narration of the movie you may ask. Well I am trying to make sense of the adage that "men are masters of their own fate". My question here "are they really and when we talk of a man's fate what are we referring to?".

I am a citizen of a country that has just transcended into democracy after decades of segregation and oppression of by the other. With the advent of democracy it became apparent that man's fate was now on his hand rather than being legislated as it used. Just like in TROY, the movie, a whole lot of people saw the dawning of democracy as the opportune time to 'grab immortality'. By 'immortality' I mean the means of establishing oneself and creating a legacy for your progeny. This can be through finding a job; starting a business; spearheading public benefit initiatives or any other self worth initiatives.

In a quest for this 'immortality' men charged forth (and some just went forth). The barriers were said to be broken down and victory was certain for all those who dared charge forth for piece of 'immortality'. Now in a new found democracy, I have observed that the distinction between reality and make believe is too obscure or too narrow. I have observed men attaining opulence and rising to unparalleled heights and others living their dream and all the same I have observed some men being broken and shattered as they search for that illusive tender and others searching for jobs in vain whilst others suffer the frustration of being undermined at the workplaces. All this is happening as these men charge for 'immortality'.

Recently our country has been engulfed in flames as men take to the streets to cry foul of promised 'immortality' that they simply cannot achieve. This has led me to remember one of my favourite quotations come from the classical Julius Caesar, "the fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings". As men are we really masters of our own fate. Does 'immortality', whatever you perceive it to be, depends on it being promised to you or you going out and grabbing it. If you go out to grab 'immortality' still, do you have to take into consideration that it is a jungle out there and the odds might be against you or do you just go bravely out and believe that you will come back with it?

I have always believed that the problem with our previous regime was thinking that people can be controlled via legislation e.g. Group Areas Act; Immorality Act and so forth. I believed that the present democratic government will suffer the same consequence through the various bills of legislation it passes year on year. However for men of this country to achieve this immortality maybe it is important that we have the Black Economic Empowerment Act; The Employment Equity Act; The Affirmative Action Act, maybe it is important that we have these.

In as much as men are masters of their universe and fate and 'immortality' is for us to grab. In as much as the fault might lie on us for being underlings, the playing fields are not level. We cannot blame and criticize those crying foul. We can only help them by making sure that the administrators of the punitive laws are of sound mind and are not self serving.

Now let's go out there and grab ourselves some 'immortality'.