South Africa

Politics, South Africa

Analysis: Madiba, the ultimate endorser

Analysis: Madiba, the ultimate endorser

On Monday it emerged that the DA had prepared a TV advert featuring the voice of Nelson Mandela, and posted it on YouTube. The ad was flighted on SABC1 on Monday night. Using the voice of Madiba is a contentious issue. It is surely rather bizarre to use the former leader of one party to advertise another. Then again, we live in bizarre times. But what it does raise is serious questions about the legacy of Madiba, and if any one group of people can claim it. And it proves, once again, that the only thing most South Africans can agree with, is that Nelson Mandela is part of the bedrock of our society. Around him, as in so little else, there is consensus. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

The start of the ad is innocuous enough. It features a young black woman, smiling at a granny and a young child, and then talking to her neighbour, who says he won’t vote, because of the broken promises. She is then shown travelling in a minibus through an informal settlement. The camera shows the awful rubbish you see in many settlements, while the radio announcer discusses high youth unemployment figures. Near the polling station there are people in ANC flags, in one corner of the screen is a car in ANC regalia with “100” marked on it. As she approaches the station, the people wearing the ANC colours are shouting, perhaps, depending on your perception of it, at her.

When she goes into the booth, she almost makes a mark next to the ANC logo. It is then, as if by magic, that she hears the voice of Mandela. As she does, she smiles, gazing at the young child, while his voice intones, “Let there be justice for all, let there be peace. Let there be work for all, let there be bread.” Then, soundtrack soaring, she makes her mark firmly and clearly for the DA, music following her as she leaves the voting place.

For most people, the use of Mandela’s voice is going to be the most controversial aspect of this. It is utterly strange to have the voice of an ANC leader in an advert for the DA. Certainly, there is no track record of Mandela saying anything nice about the DA in his lifetime. He famously remarked that when he died, the first thing he would do if he got into heaven would be to find the local branch of the ANC to join it. He also appeared to attack the DA at one point, suggesting that it wanted to support and retain white privilege.

The question then becomes, why on earth would the DA do this, especially knowing that there would be a reaction?

Interestingly, the first reaction did not actually come from a furious Luthuli House. Instead, it came from Mandla Mandela. He is, of course, an MP for the ANC. Which means that it may well have been a deliberate choice to let him deal with it. Certainly, condemnation coming from Mandela’s family could well be more powerful than condemnation coming from a political party, even the ANC. But that still suggests the ANC itself decided not to step in here. Yet, anyway.

The DA tends to be scientific about its politics; it tries to make certain decisions only knowing what the result will be. Its main problem is finding a way to get people who used to vote ANC to vote for the DA instead. There is ample evidence that many people feel the ANC has strayed from the party it was when Mandela was president. Obviously this advert is aimed at those people, at encouraging them to believe that it will be alright, okay, that their identity will still be secure if they do make their mark next to the DA.

There is probably no other person they could use that could be of such benefit to the DA. Mandela obviously has more power than anyone else.

That said, this is still quite a risky move. You can imagine the ANC’s response, that Mandela has been “stolen” by the DA, that it is trying to literally steal Madiba from the people. It could well try to mount a campaign to “protect Madiba” that would feature a narrative suggesting that the only way to “protect Madiba is to protect the ANC”. This could happen in much the same way that President Jacob Zuma has tried to make people feel they have to protect him in order to protect the ANC. No doubt, the DA is ready for such a move, and will try to make the point that the ANC under Zuma is not the ANC of Mandela.

In a way, this could really be what the DA wants; that it needs to convince people of this, and thus it really, really wants the ANC to fall into a debate about the issue. That could also explain the intervention by the family: the ANC has some of the best political brains in the business, it could decide that this is a fight best avoiding.

There are other ways in which this advert is quite revealing of the DA’s core concerns. It shows that it is targeting black voters, which has been its big political problem for the last few years. Perhaps it feels that women are more likely to shift politically. It also demonstrates that one of the biggest problems it has is voter apathy. The use of a neighbour shrugging off the voting process illustrates this, that in fact you should go and make your mark, never mind the “empty promises”. The mention by the radio announcer of “youth unemployment” again suggests that it wants people to think about jobs, and the fact that the woman in the advert is relatively young is also indicative of the age of voter being chased.

The shots featuring people in ANC colours are probably a psycho-analyst’s dream. The shouting, the waving of flags, the gesturing, the almost aggressive nature of the young men in ANC regalia, could well be a subtle suggestion that people should not feel bullied into voting for the ANC. No doubt there are other ways to interpret it as well.

There is also a small but important story in the fact that the advert was actually shown on the SABC at all. It was weeks ago that the party first started publicly shouting at Hlaudi Motsoeneng (a man for whom no job description is now necessary) for his refusal to flight the party’s ads. Perhaps that was a deliberate ploy. Based on the previous history of this issue, the DA probably started booking slots nice and early, to give it enough time to win in the various forums it would have to approach and still have enough time to flight the adverts. Or perhaps Motsoeneng just didn’t see it, or perhaps is too busy with other fights to stop it.

If you go on to Youtube and search for “DA Advert 2016” you also come across another advert. This ad does not feature Mandela. One wonders if this is the “safe” ad, the one to be used should there be a massive backlash to the Mandela version, or if it will be used in different markets.

It seems that this advert is important to the DA. On Monday afternoon, the party’s national spokeswoman, Refilwe Ntsekhe, spoke to 702. She was more than just prepped, she was ready to go, she was ready for any argument that could be thrown at her. In a way, this could be a chance for the DA to actually dominate the news agenda, instead of being relegated to reacting to events.

But the ANC is not going to take this lying down. It knows, better than anyone, how to turn this around. It’s election season. Grab the popcorn. DM

Photo: African National Congress supporters hold up a poster to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release at Drakenstein Correctional Centre (formerly Victor Verster Prison), near Paarl in Western Cape province February 11, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly


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