Opinionista Gushwell Brooks 10 July 2014

South Africa’s politics of sloganism

Slogans have to be snappy in order to work. But something that our politicians haven’t grasped yet is that they also have to be associated with a brand that delivers.

Every great brand has a slogan. Slogans tend to be cool, identifying the brand they are associated with, with a simple phrase. “Just do it!” does nothing to put cool shoes on your feet, but those three words speak volumes. Yet the shoe company behind this slogan knows very well that it takes more than these words to give people sports apparel in return for much envied turnover. They actually have to give people shoes that make you run faster and jump higher, all while eliminating athlete’s foot. At the very least, their customers have to have good reason to believe this, at a price.

The secret to this company’s successful running, and any other with a memorable slogan, is the fact that they deliver on that most important second part. This is the part where a slogan is followed by effective delivery of something tangible. Sadly, this is the part that does not quite resonate with most of the people who should be leading us, i.e. our politicians.

Most South Africans would agree that real leadership is needed right now. With a struggling economy, crippling strikes, policies that are not being effectively implemented and mixed messages coming from the all-powerful tripartite alliance, we have moved past the point of slogans, but for now it seems that that is what constitutes the bulk of what we are getting from our leaders.

I recently bemoaned the seemingly unconstitutional limitation of the EFF’s right of freedom of expression, when the party in question was expelled from Parliament for utterances that rattled some feathers. The commentary in response to my column focused largely on the conduct of the EFF within the esteemed halls of Parliament and how they seem to be “missing the point” in legislature debates. My thoughts on decorum have been dealt with, but the second point, which is the most important, should be of great concern.

I fundamentally believe that if a political party is unable to articulate what they are all about, well, that is really their concern, they will end up losing out at the polls, people will eventually tire from the general lack of direction and messaging. But it is not only new, flamboyant, red overall-wearing parties that seem to be missing the political debate boat; our governing party, in charge for two decades, seems encumbered by the very same handicap.

Erstwhile North West Premier and current Chair of the National Council of Provinces, Thandi Modise, made headlines once more when 58 of her swine had their carcasses cannibalised by the 85 starving survivors. The “big deal” is that the animals on her farm had been left to starve for a more than a week, that her farm had been left unattended over this time period, all while she was completely oblivious.

In reality, the ticked off response to what had happened on Modise’s farm is directed at her, her poor farming – and for those of us quite fond of our four legged friends, the fact that they suffered horribly before having to die an undignified death, probably having their carcasses eaten by siblings and other closely related swine.

Rather than profusely apologising for what had happened, focusing everyone’s attention to the fact that she was not at the farm as this tragedy unfolded, and that as NCOP Chair she spends most of her time in scenic Cape Town, trying to have laws passed for our benefit, the response was much rather that “Modise’s situation was being politicised and used to attack the ANC and discredit its policies on land reform.” Anyone who believes that Modise’s farm neglect and resultant animal cruelty has anything to do with land reform, her race and/or gender needs to have their head checked. That argument does not deserve to be dignified with a response; it emanates from a fringe group that looks for any reason to spew racist diatribe, by no means representative of the average South African demographic. But Modise’s spokesperson jumped right at it, because it is easier to rile up emotions rather than deal with the issue.

Jumping back through time, at about the time preceding our last elections, a document called the National Development Plan caused a significant buzz. Everyone, including the opposition party, hailed its wonder. It would prove to be the silver bullet that would deal with inequality, poor education, poverty, unemployment and turn South Africa into the African dream. But it seemed the partners of the tripartite alliance were not consulted on this document because by the time we got to just before manifesto launches, “the left’s” voices were finally heard.

Our president, when the occasion moves him, gets really concerned with the state of affairs in our country. He then tends to fire first, only to be subsequently informed that he needs to rethink, or actually consult. His proposed re-introduction of school inspectors has been shelved, with inspection being reserved for MECs, DDGs and all other important acronyms within the Basic Education environment.

Before the “Just do it!” tagline defined a shoe manufacturer, the shoe they produced defined the company. They delivered on the product; it was real, satisfying the want and need of their global client base. With our political leaders, it seems that much has been done the other way around. Messages are given, lengthy phrases from Marxist literature get referenced, particularly when our Minister of Higher Education has taken offence to one or the other event, and we tend to be treated to a lot of broad promises, songs and dances at political rallies.

It is about time that we as a nation started looking past the slogans and at the quality of the metaphorical shoe, assuming that shoe exists at all. Is the shoe worth your taxes, are the shoe manufacturers doing what is expected of them and what have they done beyond throwing really fancy slogans your way? Slogans that tell us what a great job has been done over the last two decades are tough to swallow when you have mass evictions on the coldest Highveld, winter nights in Zandspruit, the locus of one of Johannesburg’s largest sprawling informal settlements. When workers become the frontline chess pieces in union turf wars, we need a response that actually deals with their labour struggles in a way that does not bankrupt them for half a year and damage the economy.

We, as citizens, really need to evaluate, perhaps measure party political performance with their conduct in Parliament on issues and the implementation of policy through the executive. We need to go back and look at their manifesto promises and see how these measure up.

That is when we as citizens move beyond red-overall arguments and our fixation with very flawed individuals. That is when we would like our politicians to sell us policy rather than loyalty. That is when our votes will have greater meaning. DM



Fudging, obfuscation and misdirection hobble the route to the nitty-gritty of expropriation

By Marianne Merten

Bladerunner (1980s version) is a visual feast due in large part to the Hollywood Actors Strike. This allowed the designers an extra three months to refine the sets and props.