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.


  1. This is one of the greatest blog posts I've ever read! Nice work Tim! Whatever PE is, it's got almost no actual relation to Mr Mandela. Well done on spotting the hypocrisy.

  2. Would be great if you posted a link to Nr Williams' letter to which your post responds

  3. DA campaign insults public’s intelligence
    The Herald (South Africa)
    29 April 2013

    MANCHESTER United think they are the best team in the world. So they release a poster showing Robin van Persie hugging Lionel Messi.
    The poster quotes Messi praising Van Persie as a great player. On this basis, the communication gurus of Man United would have the public believe that they really are the best team in the world.
    This is dumb and ridiculous. Dumb because no one will buy such nonsense and ridiculous because you can never sell your own organisation by marketing the products/services/ protagonists of another’s, least of all your opponents
    It’s like Pick n Pay saying that its no-name brand is the best because it’s comparable to Spar’s in-house brand!
    That is exactly what the DA has done in this latest “Know your DA” campaign. Without getting into South Africa’s political history, strictly from a communications, PR and marketing perspective, it is a seriously ill-conceived campaign.
    There can only be two “explanations” for such inanity: either that the DA has a serious inferiority complex about its history, leadership and role that it plays in SA politics (which should not be surprising), or that the DA believes that the South African public is not knowledgeable about the country’s history and will thus believe any nonsense that is put out there. Or a combination of both.
    Whatever the reason, as a communications practitioner, you can never take your audience for granted. Nor can you feed your potential clientele with misrepresentations of yourself.
    DA spokesperson Mmusi Maimane says: “The DA has its roots in the struggle. Our leaders contributed to the struggle” (“Setting the facts of the struggle straight”, April 24). Well, Mr Maimane, if you believe that then, by all means, put out ad material detailing the DA’s purported struggle history, put up posters showing Helen Suzman, Joe Seremane, Patricia de Lille and Helen Zille as claimed heroes of the struggle. If the public believes you, then for sure you will receive greater returns at the polls.
    But Man United can never go around claiming to be the best team in the world by making reference to Messi – the world’s best player who plays for a rival team – who at some point in his illustrious career paid a compliment to Van Persie.
    In exactly the same way, the DA cannot reinvent its history and character by making reference to Nelson Mandela – the world’s most revered politician who happens to be a leader of its political rival – who at some point in the freedom struggle as leader of the ANC paid a compliment to Suzman.
    Besides being vapid, tasteless and totally devoid of any real substance, it is also insincere – and will go down as such with the public at large.
    Roland Williams, Kragga Kamma, Port Elizabeth

  4. Thanks Gino. On the ball, ek se.