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