A story of two SA people brands: Ackerman and Buthelezi

*By Solly Moeng

A video clip of a smart African man, probably from Nigeria, has been making the rounds on social media platforms for quite a while. I can neither find nor recall his name, but I am sure someone will find it and bring it forward at some point. In the video, the man describes how politics, particularly in Africa, works. Accordingly, and paraphrased here, several young (wo)men – usually men – get sent to school by their parents.

A few make it and return several years later, armed with impressive academic qualifications; others don’t. Amongst those who do, some go into religion, establish churches, and soon add to the growing list of mega-wealthy African “pastorpreneurs” who go by titles such as ‘Bishop’, ‘Prophet’, etc., who masterfully combine their charisma and a panoply of tricks to mesmerise and steal from their often-gullible followers. One just needs to watch the video clips shot during their supposedly religious ceremonies to watch them skilfully plying their trade.

Some of those who do not obtain academic qualifications go into organised crime or politics, both of which are financially rewarding in Africa.

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Typically, the politicians become everyone else’s bosses. In many parts of Africa, they exercise uncontested power over their respective countries’ resources and policy-making. They get to tell everyone else what to do and, in many parts of Africa, get to be treated like heroes and heroines, even as they routinely steal from their people and trample on their fundamental human rights, jailing, maiming, exiling, and disappearing those who dare to challenge them even in arguments. This partly explains the exodus of smart people from many African countries to exercise their professions in places like the UAE, Europe, North America, etc.

But, before my meandering takes me too far away from what this is all about, let me return to South Africa, where two prominent men died within days of each other last week. One was Jewish, another was Zulu.

One was a proven, humble, entrepreneurial expert loved by all who met him, even his business rivals, and who built one of the country’s top retail businesses and created millions of jobs and livelihoods over the decades. The other was a traditional prince and, more prominently – even ruthlessly – a politician. He formed and led over many decades a cultural movement that later became a ruthless killing machine that has been shown to have collaborated with, funded, and armed by the equally ruthless apartheid killing machine that made the lives of millions of black lives hell for, also, many decades.

The prince-turned-politician also almost took the joy out of South Africa’s historic first democratic elections, back in 1994, the ones that ushered in the inimitable Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress into power. Many democratically unsustainable last-minute concessions had to be made to the politician before he agreed that his cultural movement, which became a political party, to be added to the 1994 ballot paper, literally a couple of days before the elections.

But this was not before hundreds of innocent South Africans were murdered by his apartheid armed, machete and gun-wielding followers while travelling on trains, sitting or sleeping in their homes, or walking the streets in the townships.

Sadly, the African National Congress has, over the past three decades, also become a monster, having single-handedly brought a once thriving and promising country down to its knees; no, scratch that, flat on its belly, waiting for someone else to rescue it.

Of the two men described above, one will get a category one state funeral – read, fully funded by the taxpayer with all the military pomp – because the ANC says so, and the other will not. For such funerals in South Africa, a politically funded tenderpreneur typically gets allocated dozens of millions of public funds, often a lot more than is needed to organise the funeral so that they’re left with a few millions for themselves and, who knows, for the politicians who see to their business interests.

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The costly political compromise that saw Buthelezi’s feared image being covered with reinforced PR plaster over the past decades and gradually regarded instead as a kindly, elderly stateman has seemingly worked for some, but certainly not for all. Lowly newspapermen have been chastised, even threatened with violence, for trying to peer under and remind the world about what lay hidden under the reinforced PR plaster.

South Africa, some people still refer to it as “Nelson Mandela’s South Africa”, has thus been turned into an Orwellian Animal Farm wherein the men and women in politics – often individuals who are otherwise unemployable outside of politics – get to run the show, control the public purse and all policy-making, and give instructions to the ones who did well in school.

It has also been turned into a slowly boiling pot of water in which too many citizens, who are the frogs, still do not seem to feel the near-boiling point water temperature. Or, perhaps they do; it is just that their emotional and political moulding over the years into blaming it all on colonialism, Jan van Riebeeck, the West, and apartheid – The same apartheid that Buthelezi’s killing machine has been shown to have been funded and armed by – has been very successful. It is a sad situation.

The prominent citizen who grew a small business into a thriving retail giant in South Africa must be proud of – helping countless South Africans realise their dreams – is not deemed to deserve the national recognition bestowed for what seems like political expediency to the other, who will forever be remembered by many for the lives destroyed by his followers.

Two African person brands, one a nation builder, the other a brute. It all begs the question: What defines a brand? Do lies told repeatedly really become truth? It is often said about history that the victors get to write it.

In African politics, the despots in power get to define and enforce what is moral, ensuring that they remain more equal than everyone else, all at the expense of everyone else. The gullible follows. And so remains the African story.

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*Solly Moeng is an experienced professional Political journalist and Branding Speaker with a career that has seen him manage a variety of branding projects in various sectors and in countries spanning several continents.

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