Thursday, 2 May 2013

My response to Roland Williams' letter to the Herald this week, wherein he takes the DA to task for hijacking Mandela's legacy. Williams is spin doctor for Nelson Mandela Bay's city council.

  Regardless of the validity of his argument, Roland Williams' letter attacking the DA for hijacking the legacy and name of Nelson Mandela has got to be the the most classic case of the pot calling the kettle black I've seen in years.

   Just about everything in this town has been renamed after Mr Mandela. Last time I checked, the Art Museum, the University and the entire town itself had adopted the name of a man who has never spent more than a few hours, or days at most, of his time here. In fact I don't think he ever set foot in PE until after he was released from prison. East London, being closer to Qunu and Fort Hare, has more of a right to start naming things after him.

   "Man United can never go around claiming to be the best team in the world by making reference to Messi...who at some point in his illustrious career paid a compliment to Van Persie," says Williams.

   Similarly PE can never go around claiming to be the best city in Africa by making reference to Mandela who at some point in his illustrious career paid a fleeting visit to PE.
 Tell me that isn't what you tried to do by branding PE as Nelson Mandela Bay, and as "Africa's Capital of Freedom and Excellence," as all the billboards proclaimed a while ago. Preposterous hyperbole if I ever heard it. Shall we ask the 2500 swimmers, coaches and parents who've just left here thinking we couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery? Or the people who came here for this year's Splish Festival?
From the second biggest settlement in the colony just over 100 years ago, with a number of firsts to its name (first cricket test match ever played in South Africa, first art school ever built), PE slowly sank into obscurity, and by the 80's was practically invisible in the national media, appearing only as the butt of unkind jokes about cultural graveyards. In fact, the only thing we've ever done that has gone stratospherically global and really "put us on the map" is kill Steve Biko. Not true? Name me one other time PE has made headlines all over the world.

   There's a classic Simpsons episode where Springfield is voted Worst Town in America. At a town meeting to address the problem, Marge's sisters Patti and Selma put forward their plan:

   "The easiest way to become popular is to leach off the popularity of others. So we propose changing the name Springfield to... Seinfeld!"
  Come on, Mr Williams. Tell me with a straight face that wasn't what you all tried to do. PE's national image was in the mud ten years ago. Some would say it still is, others would say the water's still just a bit green. Renaming the city had nothing to do with honouring legacies. If it was about that you would be honouring Biko's legacy, or at least doing something about the sad state of Biko House, but none of you in city council ever make reference to him. Why? Because he wasn't an ANC man. It's all become so shamelessly and transparently about The Party's narrow self-interest.

   Sorry Mr Williams. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. You lot started with this hijacking of Mandela's name. I thought the Art Museum was a good idea because in all honesty who gives a toss about King George the 5th or whatever he was. But then the university, and then the entire town? Get real. It's very transparent to people in other cities.

   My two cents worth: We should just be. We are not Africa's or even South Africa's Capital of Freedom, a vague, unquantifiable term anyway. We are most certainly not Africa's capital of excellence either.  We're just a small city on the arse end of Africa. In some respects it's a bleak place, in other respects its pretty damned awesome. But we are not the centre of the universe, despite what some megalomaniacs think, and all this renaming of everything after Mandela reeks of a small-town inferiority complex similar to what you accuse the DA of.