Opinionista Antoinette Muller 18 November 2013

So, Russell Brand, do you really think South Africans are fools?

Ya’ll got punked when Russell Brand claimed that he was banned from South Africa by the authorities. He was not banned; he was barred from boarding a flight out of London by airline staff in London. Why? His passport didn’t meet the requirements. That’s a pretty standard thing to happen, but that Brand tried to milk the situation and spread lies about what happened is shameful. It’s worse than shameful – it’s pathetic.

You’ve gotta give it to Russell Brand. And by “it” we mean the Mampara of the Week award. The man does know how to stir up some publicity, though. First, there was his guest-edit of the esteemed publication, The New Statesman; then came his appearance on Jeremy Paxman’s Newsnight; then there was his manifesto for revolution and last, but not least, this weekend came his biggest publicity stunt yet, all thanks to some industrial-grade gullibility from many South Africans.

Brand was due to appear in six sold-out shows across the country over the next week or so. Only, he didn’t make it to South Africa because he didn’t have enough blank pages in his passport. As a result, he was barred from boarding the flight out of London – a standard procedure for anyone who doesn’t meet the requirements for international travel. Although the lines are blurred here, since only one page is “officially” required; however, some officials insist on two pages – it’s all written here.

That’s the short version of the story, the plain and simple truth of it. Everything would have been good and well if his management simply accepted that they had made a massive stuff-up. That they were too arrogant – or too stupid – to check the prerequisites for entering another country. Brand, though, couldn’t resist the opportunity to further his reputation as a presumed bad-ass revolutionary and exploit his followers for a little bit of extra publicity.

Brand took his followers, especially those of the South African variety, for a massive joy ride on a wave of gullibility, proving once again how easily propaganda can infect the brains of those addicted to fury at their rulers. That was the scariest part – so much of the reaction from his followers was geared towards the SA government who, technically, had nothing to do with it. The rule for blank pages is pretty standard. Yes, they are made by governments, but it’s pretty standard across the world.

Brand saw an opportunity: cast the government as the villain and Brand, the man fighting for change. But his actions were cruelly irresponsible and desperate for publicity.

It all started off on Friday with Brand tweeting: SA authorities REFUSE TO LET ME INTO YOUR COUNTRY.

Only he lied. He was not banned. He was barred from boarding a flight by airline staff in London. He never made it to the border control gates in South Africa to be told: nooit. He never even got onto the plane. It was an ordinary reaction to an ordinary person who made an ordinary error.

It was followed with another Tweet a few hours later: South Africa! I’m allowed in! AUTHORITY YIELDED TO YOUR PEOPLE POWER! I’ll be on stage tomorrow night in J-Burg.

Possibly another lie, since not even the most efficient home affairs department in the world would be able to organise a new passport in a few hours. You can have additional pages added to your passport, but it will take at least 48 hours to do so.

A few hours later, Brand posted a picture of himself looking all “my dog ate my passport”, saying: Banned from South Africa. Here ready to go. Refused entry.

The lies continued to stoke the fire, despite several news reports – with a statement from his management stating it was an error with his passport – doing the rounds.

That the SA’s ruling party has many, many faults, there is no denying. The journalists on these pages document those day in day out. But that middle-class South Africans’ irritability has grown to such an extent that they would willingly accept the words of somebody who partly makes his success out of ensuring he stay in the spotlight is scary. That there was no desire from so many people to question how South African authorities could refuse him entry if he had not even left the UK is galling. It does make one wonder what else the masses will believe if someone of stature were to say it.

If you were the conspiracy theory type, perhaps you could go so far as to say that perhaps Brand is in cahoots with the DA. Ask any international traveller or South African citizen trying to get a spouse or partner into the country for the long term what a pain the paper work can be. Perhaps Brand and the DA will be using the archaic rules of visas and blank passport pages as a way to lure the middle classes into voting for them next year.

Only that would be far too extraordinary, and there is nothing extraordinary about the situation. Brand is not a revolutionary. He is ordinary. An ordinary man with loads of money and fame, but ordinary nonetheless. Trying to fox South Africans into think he’s a martyr is foolish, arrogant and pathetic. However, don’t be surprised if he manages to wrangle a couple of extra gigs out of this upon his return – all at a premium price, of course. DM

Photo: Actor and comedian Russell Brand speaks during the taping of the Spike TV special tribute “Eddie Murphy: One Night Only” at the Saban theatre in Beverly Hills, California November 3, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni.

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