Bringing authentic Africa to the fore

One of the many reasons for the xenophobia now taking hold in our country is that South Africans’ ignorance of Africa is matched only by their arrogance.

As a reporter from Africa in the turbulent 1980s – and repeatedly detained, harassed and deported – I have never ceased to marvel at the way South Africans, black and white, see the rest of the continent. For many people here, the world ends at the Limpopo River and the Heart of Darkness begins beyond it.

I remember talking to an ANC official at a cocktail party in the 1990s, who said he had “not traveled much in Africa”.

“Where do you plan to live? I answered and got a blank stare. This obvious fact hadn’t occurred to him.

Those of us who have worked across Africa know that this amazing continent is about more than coups, wars and famines. Apart from anything else, there is business to be made and money to be made…especially by South African companies.

Every once in a while, watching the international news channels on DStv – which have a bigger footprint for commercial breaks than South Africa – I see an advertisement aimed at an African audience.

Sometimes it’s clear South Africans aren’t being targeted, other times when I realize the actual target audience I can see it would work here in South Africa as well.

One of them was a nice MTN commercial recently, “It’s what your voice can do”. After seeing it on DStv, I went to see if I could find it on YouTube – and did on MTN South Sudan and MTN Zambia.

It begins with a wise old woman telling the children gathered around her about the power of a voice, which we see sneaking up to a child’s ears. Then, in a wonderful sequence, we see a young woman describing a painting for an old blind man. It comes to life as she describes it, proving that the voice can be the theater of the mind for some who are visually impaired.

Then we see voices singing and having fun – hearing is also about joy… and joy is contagious as it spreads across the world. Of course, the message is that MTN, as a communications company, is what gives your voice real power, allowing it to cross countries, continents and the world.

The ad is put together artistically and in a way that does not demean its audience. And it gets the message across eloquently.

Orchids to MTN and its African operations. If we had more brands and ads like this, maybe we could break down the artificial walls between the people of Africa.

Roadkill on the Twitter timeline

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Many brands are playing Russian roulette by leaving their social media operations in the hands of people who simply don’t suffer reputational damage.

The Democratic Alliance must rethink its handling of social media after this week’s self-inflicted reputational assault initiated by party leader John Steenhuisen.

Steenhuisen – who has a reputation for blocking people on Twitter who dare to criticize him – was on what is billed as the country’s most popular podcast, hosted by MacG. In an earlier podcast, MacG opined that maybe it was time the DA got “a chance” to lead South Africa. Quite correctly, someone in the DA PR machine spotted a great PR opportunity for Steenhuisen to go on the air, unscripted and relaxed and dispel many stereotypes about the party.

So far, so good. But, in his effort to appear “ordinary oke”, Steenhuisen went too far. When asked if he knew what “roadkill” meant, he replied “That sounds like my ex-wife…”

The presenters fell from their chairs in amusement, as men would. After all, we’ve been making jokes about women for millennia, boet, so why stop now?

Making a comment like this in Women’s Month, as it becomes increasingly clear that this type of wacky atmosphere is what allows sexism (and its nasty cousin, gender-based violence) to thrive , is downright insane.

What makes it all the more unfortunate is that Steenhuisen went on to have a great interview, showing that he truly is one of the best political speakers and a natural in front of a microphone. He also made concessions — on white privilege and racism — that may have angered some of his white supporters, but were deftly aimed at that huge black majority that is increasingly disenchanted with politics.

But, why, oh why, did the DA’s social media “smarts” decide to give the interview as if it were on the same level as a strip club invite? Grab a drink, boet, sit back and enjoy the show (including the jokes – girls gotta have a sense of humor, man…)

How did this decision get past the party’s top brass? Perhaps because they didn’t see anything offensive in a man bashing the mother of his two children – a man who played the main role in the breakdown of the marriage. If anyone was a hit man, it was him.

I expect to get a lot of hate mail from AD supporters for this. And frankly, if I do, it says more about them than it does about me. If we don’t tell these kinds of sexist jokes to our friends and family — and to national figures — every time we hear them, our women will continue to live their lives in a hostile environment.

More than that, however, it was a marketing move that ended up hurting the DA brand and generating unnecessary controversy. So he gets an onion from me. Guess that would make me a roadkill in John’s eyes…

To see the full episode of the podcast, go here.

Do you have something to say or do you have some great work that I may not know about? Email me at [email protected]