Molweni ma-Afrika!

Bonjour l’Afrique!

Hujambo Afrika!

African football will be crowning a Champion’s league winner this week. Good luck to both Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa and their new coach Stuart Baxter as well as Al Ahly of Egypt and their coach Pitso Mosimane. To us at Jambo Africa, it matters less who wins because what we are certain of is that Africa will be the bigger winner.

On a very sad note, our condolences go to the family of Ntate Tsepo ‘The Village Pope’ Tshola who passed away yesterday due to complications related to COVID-19. When I was still young he and another late legend, Brenda Fassie (may her Soul Rest in Peace) sang a very moving song called ‘Boipatong’ after South Africa and the world had witnessed the brutal murder of little children, teenagers, mothers and fathers by the apartheid South African Defence Force (SADF) and the police at the instruction of the authorities. They used a contrasting modus operandi – SHOOT TO KILL – as opposed to the current security system which emphasises RESTRAINT.

Is this a wake up call?

The past seven days has been a wake-up call to a post-Apartheid South Africa as some of the most bizarre episodes have taken place and is still on course. This is anarchy defined. 

The approach of South Africa’s security forces has been quite circumspect, leaving observers wondering if, indeed, the South African government was still in control. In my discussions (formal and informal) with different personalities, all sorts of potential reasons for this were advanced.

Of all the various considerations, I suspected that this is likely to be a civil disobedience of a special kind as some of its apparatuses and constituents do not fully align with normal features of a civil disobedience. Looking at other acts of civil disobedience in history, I found myself stuck with a few questions. 

The 1980s United Democratic Front (UDF) of South Africa was a conscientious movement that, due to the gap created by the outlawing of political organisations [including the African National Congress (ANC), Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and South African Communist Party (SACP)] and killing of political activists, had clear political persuasions with an unmistakeable leadership. Its equivalent out of Africa also had leaders and clear objectives. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Mahatma Gandhi led movements that had clear objectives. At this stage, we can only talk of a looting spree in South Africa with an undetectable direction characterised – more – by criminal elements than political. 

The next few days, weeks and month (perhaps) will give us more clarity that will allow us opine in a less guesstimating fashion. 

There are certain things that seem to be definite, though. One of them is that, at this stage, this movement does not have clear identifiable leadership, even though the South African government suggests that there are 12 instigators. Secondly, Many South Africans are gullible. Thirdly, these instigators have used methods akin to high level textbook intelligence showing accurate planning. Fourthly, their approach is destructive as it is based on random economic sabotage that lures innocent minds into participation taking advantage of the country’s expanding levels of unemployment and the slow pace of economic redistribution. Fifthly, the instigators, who are well-armed vandalise security measures in each business centre and use social media to invite ordinary persons (including sickly elders and children) to come and loot the open shops. The same residents enticed to participate run the risk of running short of the medication and food supply. Very importantly, the deadly coronavirus will have a field day as it results in deaths that could have been avoided. 

What also makes this uprising awkward, to the frustration of organisers (at the time of writing this, the Minister in the Presidency had reported to the media that one instigator had been arrested), is that the police and the army were not characteristically ruthless. Shots from the police and army would have killed hundreds and martyrised the organisers as well as those dead because the police and army would have been categorised as trigger-happy. This, therefore, leaves no footprints that are equivalent to a Boipatong or Marikana or Sharpeville or the Soweto Uprising. 

The suspicion by the South African Minister of State Intelligence that ex-Intelligence operatives may have been used leaves one shivering with fear. Coupled with this is the truth that South Africa never fully disarmed the populace beyond 1994. The discord in southern Africa was informed by the use of various types of munitions that included assault rifles, machine guns, pistols and grenade launchers, on either side, that were never handed over by the contending parties or destroyed. Effectively, there was no effective disarmament as we traversed into the post-Apartheid era. It is estimated that there is over 8 million illegal small arms that are still circulating in South Africa. These are some of the factors that we must be worried about. 

Yes, an image of a country whose authority may have lost control has been created. It was encouraging, though, listening to Eustace Mashimbye who is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Proudly South African when he outlined that Brand South Africa has not been destroyed even though there is hard work that lies ahead. In a typical South African way, it is also quite commendable to witness millions in their majorities (from all provinces including the two affected) standing next to the defence force and the police picking up their brooms, saying “we shall clean our country” and standing up, saying “No one is going to loot my city or town or village or mall”. I believe that the South African Social media was the busiest in the world. On a 24-hour basis, citizens monitored and flashed the latest developments to the entire public. They also corrected most of the fake information that had been publicised by potential instigators.

In the coming weeks, Jambo Africa Online will do an intensive analysis of this episode. Our Economics Captain, Francois Fouche will analyse the impact that this has had on the South African economy, the Southern African Development Countries (SADC) region and the African continent. We will also focus on the impact this has made on individual business owners, youths and South Africans in general.

Brands must respect consumers

We still have a responsibility to protect our freedom – which many Africans died for.

One time I cooked a nice pork dish and I was ready to devour it – unexpectedly a friend also wanted a share. We started eating. I narrated how I cooked the meal. Suddenly I was left to eat the delicious meal alone. Unbeknown to me, it turned out that my friend does not like idea of eating pork. 

In another episode, a lecturer emphasised on us that we must observe the processes employed when making a cake. There are always instructions on the use of ingredients and their amounts. Too much iced sugar may just give an unintended taste that will, consequently, be a turn-off to potential and usual buyers. 

The two examples given above represent how you must visualise what a brand is. what creates value to a brand is the reception that it gets from the target market. 

Marketers know that in any marketing and branding exercise, messaging to the recipient is one of the key element that influences the success or failure of a brand. 

If pork is a repellent to your customer, pigheadedly serving them with pork is the end of that rapport, if you had any. Though you are the one that is driving the message you ought to understand that your target market’s needs are more important than yours. Even if the message would not murder your target audience using a wrong ingredient can be a recipe for your product to be rejected. For argument’s sake, you cannot expect an Orlando Pirates fan to eat from a Kaizer Chiefs labelled dish. They can distance themselves from your product if they don’t like it. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of explaining certain truths, thus allaying fears that your customer might be having.

Using the above analogies, we can agree that a brand is a concoction of different elements that provide a meaning to what that product or service represents. Promoting a strong brand is not easy as it always has to convey messages to current and potential customers about the business’ reputation, personality and shows differentiation from competitors.

Marketers are, therefore, always careful about the signage that they use to show who they are. It is one of the most difficult processes to determine visual elements of a brand. They always avoid using symbols that may be misinterpreted by the publics that access their messaging because they know that all elements (a dot, colour, object, etc) gives meaning to the brand. Symbols are part of the aggregate elements that add up to the formulation of a brand. It gives a figurative reality of what the symbolised brand stands for. A symbol can come in different ways, more significantly in the brand signage. They always try to avoid co-incidence as their research is always comprehensive. If they proceed using a symbolism that is associated with things like hate crime, it is either they don’t care or are adherents of such crimes. To dish it to persons that are victims of such symbolism and crimes is nothing less than cruelty.

An African or Jewish person would, in all likelihood, never vote for a party whose signage includes a SWASTIKA. An African man could never, in all likelihood, be a member of the Afrikaner Weerstands Beweeging (AWB). A Muslim cannot, in all likelihood, praise God in a room that is painted with a cross and other symbols representing Christianity and Jesus Christ.

Is the Ku Klux Klan a sister brand to Vodacom?

This is a very serious question as it queries the identity of one of biggest telecommunications companies in Africa. The Ku Klux Klan is similar to South Africa’s hitlerian, fascist Afrikaner Broederbond, even though the latter is even more secretive and equally brutal against Africans.

The KKK has committed an innumerable cruel acts terrorising Africans. They murdered 200 African people in Tulsa, Oklahoma when an African was accused of raping a white woman, they beat Emmet Till, disfiguring his face, dislodging one of his eyes from its socket before killing him and throwing him into a river in 1955. In 1957, the KKK castrated Edward Aaron with a razor and he succumbed to his death. They forced Willie Edwards to jump off a bridge to his death. In the 60s they killed under-14 African school girls having placed a bomb, political activist Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo (white but killed for riding in the same car with an African man). Recently (2010 onwards) they murdered 3 Jewish people. 

The Ku Klux Klan is, therefore, an antithesis to Africa. 

Take a very close look at the symbol of the Ku Klux Klan. At the centre of its signage is a single red blood drop symbol that is an exact replica of the signage in the Vodacom logo. Let me clarify – what is obvious is that the KKK signage has been there before even technology specialists ever thought something called a cellular phone was ever possible. So Vodacom would be the one that either plagiarised or copied the KKK’s signage. 

Vodacom, the KKK and Africa – what a bizarre combination. 

Vodacom distributes in South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Zambia, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Kenya and Angola.

So, why would a large and successful African-based brand use such a signage?

Racist symbols are never used without understanding by marketers who create the messaging. In fact, my view is that the Vodacom brand is using Africa as a dumping site for the messaging that re-asserts an average view of a racist. So, how should symbolism that is associated with racism sit with Africans? Is Vodacom an evangelist of racial supremacy? Africans, as the consistent victims of racism and they detest it – so what justification exists for one to walk around with a signage that is anti-African when he believes in human rights? Is Vodacom not insulting African people?

Africans have been insulted by big company brands before and this continues whilst the entities smile all the way to the bank having used symbolism that degrades the latter.

Clicks, which distributes across various southern African countries, aborted an advertisement that labelled an African’s natural hair as ‘dry and damaged’. Hennes & Mauritz (known as H&M) showed an African wearing a top inscribed with, ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle’. Nivea insulted Miss Nigeria by putting an advertisement that showed her apply the lotion and magically her skin turned lighter. 

As an aftermath to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ uproar American brands like Aunt Jemima, Mrs Butterworth and Uncle Ben were challenged by the customer base as the visual identity on their signage was creating offensive stereotyping against Africans.

 Heineken, in 2018, used a pay-offline “SOMETIMES, LIGHTER IS BETTER”. Heineken got into trouble for this with an advertisement that was underhandedly suggestive of racism.

Whilst acknowledging that it takes time to build a visual brand identity, if its maintenance is against human dignity, that company has no choice but to amend its visual brand identity so that it does not stay at opposite ends with its target market. 

I don’t feel pity for the re-branding costs it would take for Vodacom to right this wrong. 

To co-opt the signage of the KKK in 21st century Africa for VODACOM, the most famous telecommunications brand in the country is close to treason. 

Africa’s interest

Whether this came as a result of their brand migration to accommodate their mother brand – Vodafone – is of no interest to us. Our interest is in getting the justification that this company has in using such signage – not because we think we should accommodate the KKK in Africa but because Vodacom needs to plea in mitigation for this. Africa has no space for racial supremacists, be they the Ku Klux Klan or the Afrikaner Broederbond. If Vodacom is an adherent of the KKK, then it has no space in Africa or the progressive world.

We will engage our legal counsel to take this matter up with Vodacom and possibly may end up approaching the relevant regulatory authorities in the different African countries that are affected by this. 

I have always been a customer to Vodacom. If I am not content with their feedback to this – I will certainly migrate my contact numbers to other telecommunications networks. The rapport between me and them will be shattered because they worship those who see me as less human.  

Enjoy your weekend.

Andile Msindwana


Follow me Twitter: @MsindwanaAndile