Recent weeks have seen a new form of poster take to some of Joburg's walls. They look like advertising posters... They quack like advertising posters... But they sure ain't advertising posters. Instead, they're fakes of the posters you see almost everywhere in Joburg advertising The Star newspaper. Some of their fake headlines are clearly designed to provoke. Like "No Zuma Luxury Plane is Racist", or "2010 ANC Al Qaeda ANC Pact". They're going to get a reaction. And they have. From of course, The Star itself. Now the group responsible is stepping out of the shadows... But only just. By a highly intrigued STEPHEN GROOTES.
In South Africa, protest takes many forms. It’s often violent, sometimes it’s just a sit-in. Perhaps the bravest form of protest over the last few years has been art. You don’t think so? Go on then, paint a picture of the President. Leave out the clothes. Go on. I treble double dog-dare dare you. So it’s interesting that this group, which calls itself the Bogus Boys, has taken this route.
Their posters are nothing too special. It’s not too hard to rip off someone else’s artwork. But what makes them interesting is their choice of headlines. They’re current, they’re hard-hitting, and they hit their target.
Which is what got the paper’s editor Makhudu Sefara so worked up, when he said that he would “hunt them down so they would face the full wrath of the law”. He also points out that this group is damaging a valuable brand, and that “if they have any information (about the Sekunjalo Consortium) then they should come and talk properly”.
Since we’re not quite the full wrath of the law (but don’t get me wrong, our editor can be quite close to it on a bad day), the man who says he’s representing the group agreed to a meeting. But of course, on condition that we don’t name him.
And that, dear reader, means I now get the wonderful, sought after opportunity to make up a pseudonym for an anonymous source. It’s a hard act to follow. Google ‘Deep Throat’ (If you dare. And certainly not in the office. – Ed) and you’ll see what I mean. However, when in this position, I thought I’d phone my mate Siyabonga Cwele for help (Seriously? Like you have his number? – Ed. Sure. Would you like it? – SG. Nah, not really. – Ed). And he, quite gleefully it turns out, suggested Mr Blank Space.
When wondering slightly blindly through a public space looking for a person who wants to remain anonymous, you kind of have to hope they’ve google-imaged you. And then once you’ve met them, you rely on the usual social courtesies to get you through. “Would you like something to drink? Sugar?” etc. All the while you’re looking for some way to describe the person, without giving them away.
“Nicely dressed” will have to do in this case.
Anyway, to business:
Mr Blank Space is deeply worried “about freedom of expression in South Africa”. He believes it’s under threat. Partly because of my friend Mr Cwele. And he is particularly worried about Independent Newspapers, and the takeover by the Sekunjalo Consortium.
Now some back-story. And let me just give you a quick conflict alert. I work in the media, and have done so for various organisations. But never for Independent Newspapers. But you know, all media competes with all media, so I am, I think, probably conflicted in some way.
Essentially, Dr Iqbal Surve is leading the Sekunjalo Consortium in a bid to buy the Independent Group of Newspapers. He says it’s going to return ownership to South Africans, and black South Africans at that. But other media organisations, particularly Times Media, have run several stories suggesting that his refusal to name the members of his consortium means that he is hiding something, that it may be some kind of complicated front for the ANC, and that he is, to put it into Twitter form, #UpToNoGood.
Mr Space is with the latter view. He believes, quite clearly, that Sekunjalo is “just a front for the ANC”. And that “because the New Age doesn’t seem to be taking off, I’d imagine they would prefer to put their message through The Star”.
Asked what his intentions with this campaign are, he says he really wants to “shake things up a bit”, to get people to think and basically to guide the conversation. He wants a proper shareholder-debate around Sekunjalo and press ownership to be at the top of everyone’s dinner-time agenda. And he’s promising more in the future, but he won’t go into specifics at this point.
Mr Space is also hugely annoyed at Mr Sefara’s response. He says the claim that he will “hunt down those responsible” is proof he’s not a democrat.
At this juncture, unless you really believe Mr Cwele and I do crack beers of a Saturday afternoon, you may be asking if I have completely lost my cynicism. If I’ve finally cracked. If the pomposity has finally worn me down. How on earth do I know that this person, Mr Space, is in fact responsible for the posters?
Well, as all good anonymous sources do, he came prepared. He brought something. At these moments, in all the good films anyway, the source has to prove themselves. In this case, he brought a copy of the letter that he sent to Sefara. As far as I’m aware, that letter has not been made public, and thus, we presume, could be this proof. But, I must tell you, that is all we have. Nothing more.
So then, what do we think will happen next? Well, Mr Sefara had the good grace not to ask for Mr Space’s real identity, so he’s going to have to do some more hunting. And Mr Space is likely to take his posters of brand destruction and keep going. So long as he doesn’t get caught, why not? And if he does, well, what would he be charged with? It’d be difficult to make much stick really. Perhaps fraud, but you’d have to try really hard. And the National Prosecuting Authority is not really trying hard at anything these days.
So Mr Space is probably ok and will continue the daring game. But he is also keenly aware that being an artist these days can be a dangerous profession. DM
To follow on Twitter
Not to do
Some firing squads are all issued with blank cartridges with the exception of one person. This helps alleviate personal responsibility for the execution squad.