Friday, February 18, 2011

An interesting... DA e-aggression

(Image pinched from The Daily Maverick)

This morning my inbox spat out a press release from the DA’s Lindiwe Mazibuko. I usually read DA communication at arms’ length, scared that it’s usual super-aggressive tone will snap at my eyes. Instead, Ms. Mazibuko’s lengthy campaign document was easy to read, and didn’t make me feel like I was being shat on.

I’m certainly not saying that there is a right or wrong way to do it, merely what I prefer dealing with. For example, here are some quotes from Helen Zille’s weekly newsletter:

7 Feb: Being an “all-weather friend” to authoritarian rulers is clearly more important to the ANC than promoting economic growth.

10 Jan: The ANC will ensure that SADC continues to protect former "freedom fighters" who have morphed into despots.

10 Jan: Perhaps the biggest flaw of all is Zuma’s continued delusion that the state can play a leading role in planning, managing and leading sustainable economic growth and job creation.

These are just three examples. And I am not debating whether Mrs. Zille is right or wrong in the points she is making. What I do think is that the way she writes is not conducive to changing people’s minds. If someone shouts at you or speaks to you like you are stupid, you are unlikely to listen to the points they are making. Mrs. Zille’s tone is very aggressive.

Gareth van Onselen is the DA’s executive director of communication (head of communications for the DA?) and this is a comment he left on The Daily Maverick recently in response to a column by Sipho Hlongwane:

Hlongwane, who strikes me as distinctly mediocre, suggests it was a good thing that Mbeki avoided accounting for his various Aids madnesses; that he did well to give Coetzee a good 'tuning'. It's the analysis of someone who doesn't know the facts and thus, suggests Mbeki was doing the right thing by avoiding being held to account. But perhaps that is exactly what Hlongwane thinks - transparency is a bad idea and anyone who avoids it, 'deserves a generous helping of grog'. Certainly I don't remember him speaking out against Mbeki at the time. How idiotic.

Once again, I am not here to debate what he says. But I do notice his tone. And it isn’t pleasant. He was possibly commenting in his personal capacity, but to expect viewers to think this has noting to do with the DA when he’s debating in a public arena is silly.

This is what made Lindiwe Mazibuko’s press release so different. Read it. She writes beautifully and explains the DA’s municipal records – persuading people rather than telling them they are stupid for voting for anyone else. (While you may never find that written down in DA communication, tone-wise it does allude to it.) Am I seeing something that isn’t there? Possibly. But communication specialists should make me avoid doing so, surely?

While both Mrs Zille and Ms Mazibuko both present arguments, I find Ms Mazibuko’s far easier to engage with. She points out where the ANC has fallen down and in comparison shows where and how the DA has done better. Take this, for example – a snippet from the release:

In its 2006 manifesto, the ANC said:

"By 2010, when South Africa hosts the Soccer World Cup, all households will have access to clean running water and decent sanitation."

Now the ANC says the target is no longer 2010, but 2014, and the Cooperative Governance report shows why. In Tshwane, for instance, one in five residents still do not even have access to the most basic level of sanitation.

In Cape Town, on the other hand, 94% of residents have access to basic sanitation.

Personally, I think that if the DA are to make massive inroads into government like they aim to, it will be due to communication like Ms. Mazibuko’s that gets them there. People care about what she has written about and she doesn’t alienate people who aren’t DA-voters. She has shown what he DA has done well without hysterical angry-white-people-tone. She has shown DA solutions and advancements, a stark differentiation to the yapping opposition political fox terrier which the DA is often accused of. She hasn’t used terms like”deluded”, “crony”, “blind” or “idiotic”. She’s presented facts in a very personable way.

And it's is far harder to argue with facts than it is to resent and ignore a crap tone.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

An interesting... government of not just darkies

Yesterday, Dr Blade Nzimande declared the government one of darkies during the debate over last week’s State of the Nation address. News24 reports him saying:

“If the matric results are bad, this is taken as proof that this government of darkies is incapable. If the matric pass rate goes up it means the results have been manipulated by these darkies.

I suppose we have got to ask ourselves what Dr Nzimande means here. Can only a black person be a darkie? If so, then Dr Nzimande has forgotten that this is not a government of darkies, as two pretty pale members of his own party (the South African Communist Party (SACP)), Rob Davies and Jeremy Cronin, occupy cabinet portfolios. Davies is Minister of Trade and Industry and Cronin is Deputy Minister of Transport.

I am also not sure who is dark enough to be declared a darkie. Would Minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel? Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan? Minister of Agriculture, Tina Joematt-Piettersson, and her deputy, the FF+’s Piet Mulder? Minister of Communications, Roy Padayachie? Minister in the Presidency, Trevor Manuel? Minister of Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk?

The government is not one of darkies. From what I see above it has a pretty decent representation of South Africa. And what really irritates me is Dr Nzimande’s inference that only darkies play any part in government.

What Dr Nzimande is doing is reinforcing the ideas of people like Steve Hofmeyr, that modern-day South Africa is for black people only. That there is a cultural genocide going on. That white, coloured and Indian folks have been relegated to second-class citizens. That Wimbledon/Perth/Canada refugee status is the way to go. What utter crap.

The ANC, which the SACP party aligns itself to (without standing in any election itself) has always been a party that is open to all in South Africa. Being a freedom movement throughout the days of apartheid, it lends itself to support from the black majority of South Africa, but has never exclusively catered to this group of people. Dr Nzimande’s utterances – although he says government and not ANC (in many people's eyes these are the same thing) – seem to allude to the opposite.

The ANC has never declared South Africa only for black people. The ANC has never solely included black people in government in every election it has won. The idea that only black people have a role in leading South Africa is against the philosophies of the ruling party, and these ideals are being muddied with the aforementioned quote.

That someone of the intelligence of Dr Nzimande could go around peddling these ideas, indirectly – admittedly – is irresponsible. There are many people in government helping push South Africa forward who aren’t darkies alongside many who are. How dare you attempt to ignore them?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An interesting... differentiation, repeated a thousand times over

Mukoma Wa Ngugi, a Kenyan writer who posted in the Comment is Free section of the Guardian today that he’s noticed that white people in America treat black Africans differently to how they treat black Americans. He’s managed to write a whole column on something I feel doesn’t really exist in the USA any more than it does around the rest of the world.

As we grow up to be racist – and by that I mean differentiating by race, not necessarily hating on people – and we do, particularly in places like South Africa, we forget that race is not the only factor we have when it comes to hating people. Look at the Irish – they only have white people there so instead of race conflicts, they fought over Christianity. The Sunni Muslims and Shi’ite Muslims played out a similar scenario. Cantonese-speaking Chinese think they are a level up from Mandarin-speakers while in India, a land where most people are Hindu and Indian, there are class criteria which exclude.

Even here in South Africa, a chit-chat here and there will make one realise that not all black folks are the same – good god, nine of the official languages are taken up by them! The other two are split amongst white folks, who have also gone through some troubles together – an English-speaking South African should never respond to “It’s been 16 years. Blacks should just get over apartheid” with “They probably will when you get over the Anglo-Boer war”.

So while Mukoma Wa Ngugi may feel that white Americans do indeed prefer foreign black folks to homegrown ones (and I doubt he has ever visited Arizona), I argue that it is a trait which is hardly exclusive to America. There is no one single degree of any group you could point out, as we tend to think.

And this begs the question: are differentiation and prejudice the same thing?

No, they are not. While these two concepts often walk hand in hand, and the former is necessary for the latter, it is incorrect to assume that because one acknowledges that one is not the same as someone else, that hating them is the next logical step. It is tempting, I suppose, because it is easy. But it is an intentional decision, not part of the deal.

History may not be so kind to my interpretation, but I find there are more people willing to break the divides down nowadays than there ever have before. So to ascribe something to America in blanket fashion is to propagate something westwards that applies everywhere. And to allude to the fact that this is exclusive to the USA is not just a lie, it is easy to jump on to. I certainly don’t deny the existence of racism in the States. What I do deny is the fact that it is more prevalent there than anywhere else.

Monday, February 14, 2011

An interesting... rise of Middle Eastern airlines

I think it is quite clear at this point in time that Emirates, if it were to come down to a proportional popular vote, would probably be the world’s favourite airline. It is already the planet’s biggest airline by miles flown, and one of few to churn out a profit – in aviation this is virtually impossible. Aside from costs for the airline being lower due to differences in menial wages in the Middle East compared to Europe, there are a few notables pushing carriers from this region up above everyone else.

Asian airlines have already stolen the golden age of travel away from older and more established airlines in Europe and the USA. The only 5-star airlines (according to Skytrax ratings) in the world are all Asian: Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong), Asiana (South Korea), Hainan Airlines (China), Kingfisher Airlines (India), Qatar Airways, Singapore and Malaysian. So luxurywise, the States and Europe lost it a while ago.

Where the Middle East continues to take over has got a lot to do with its geography – it is halfway to everywhere. The New York times describes Dubai as within an 8-hour flight of 4 billion people – which the three giant Middle Eastern airlines (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways) have taken advantage of. But I think the real recipe for success of Emirates and Qatar Airways in particular has been the destinations they choose to fly to, and pricing strategies.

Getting the pricing correct entails asking one’s self at what point people feel they have saved enough money that they are prepared to stop rather than fly direct. I once saved about R6000 flying Qatar Airways instead of SAA between Johannesburg and London. These airlines knows where that line is, and are now actually one of the most popular links between South Africa and the world, as well as Europe.

Emirates and Qatar Airways have also chosen their destinations superbly. For example, Sweden’s airline, SAS, doesn’t really connect the world and instead relies on an alliance with (totally overpriced, in my opinion) British Airways to get its people around. Well, Qatar Airways can get them to Doha and then connect them to just about any big business or tourist city in the world for less than they would pay to go via London, Paris, Frankfurt or Amsterdam. Emirates has an even bigger advantage as Dubai (it’s hub) is one of the world’s most sought after destinations - most flights ticketed through Emirates have the option for a free stopover in Dubai too.

South Africa is lucky in that Emirates also operates direct flights from Dubai to Johanesburg, Cape Town AND Durban – the only direct passenger flight from our east coast to a major international destination (even SAA doesn’t provide this – Durbanites need to fly the national carrier via Johannsburg). But Durban isn’t the only lucky one in Africa – Khartoum, Entebbe, Mahe, Accra, Abidjan etc are also all cities that one would not expect a major international airline to give much fervor to, but Emirates does – as well as the major cities – Johannesburg, Lagos, Luanda, Cario, Addis Ababa etc. Christchurch, Guangzhou, Ahmedabad, Kozhikode are probably as grateful. Emirates has seen the potential and performance of these destinations and made them work – at a lower cost to consumers.

From a customer point of view, there are also no hidden or added-on fees. Once you have paid for your ticket on Emirates, the only time you may have to pull out your credit card is to pay for overweight baggage (it’s a luxury we share with SAA by the way). Contrast this with a friend who flew United Airlines to Hong Kong three weeks ago and had to cough up for booze and to watch in-flight movies. British Airways charges £50 for a second bag (not overweight, just another one). Airlines are all ramping up these sorts of ludicrous charges nowadays. The golden age of travel is pretty dead for most Western airlines.
But not the Middle Eastern ones.

And Emirates reigns as king - in popularity and profit margins. Qatar Airways, a newer airline, as prince - a definite second best. And Etihad, Abu Dhabi's carrier, lies in wait with the potential to dethrone both of them.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

An interesting... ship off of Côte d'Ivoire

Much is aflutter with reports that the SAS Drakensburg, a South African naval vessel has parked somewhere off the coast of Côte d'Ivoire. Ecowas (Economic Community of West African States) – kind of the equivalent of, and forever in a pissing contest with, the SADC (Southern African Development Community) – is “miffed” and says this is going to complicate the peace process which is due to take place in the Côte d'Ivoire in the near future.

Denials from the spokesperson for SA defense says no military aid (including the boat) is due to be given to either Ouattara (the chap who actually won the election) or Gbagbo, the dicktator who refuses to leave power after being voted out.

Two stories seem to have come out, though.

News24 reports: “The defence ministry said a naval ship had been deployed to West Africa as part of a training exercise, although it is ready for any "instruction and assistance" required by its foreign ministry.

"The department of defence confirms that the SA Naval ship, the SAS Drakensberg has been on a periodical routine training cruise along the West Coast of Africa since early January 2011 to train junior naval officers," a statement said.

So the ship would have been there anyway?

The Mail and Guardian, however, reports: The chairperson of West Africa's regional bloc on Tuesday criticised South Africa for sending a warship to the region amid Côte d'Ivoire's political crisis, but the South African government maintained it had sent the vessel as a negotiating venue.

So is it training (in which case it would have been there either way), or is it there as a negotiating venue (in which case it has probably been sent there recently)?

Who knows? But something certainly smells rotten in the Coast of Ivory.

PS: It’s worth pointing out that the SAS Drakensburg is not a navy ship full of guns and crap. It is a supply vessel – designed to replenish ships that are built to blow crap up.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Hi America, calm the fuck down.

Christina Aguilera is taking a beat-down in the press because she cocked up the national anthem before the Superbowl. The traitorous heathen sang "O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming" when she should have sung: "What so proudly we watched at the twilight's last gleaming?"

Well guess who hates America. And with that surname she sure as hell isn't being invited to any dinner parties in Arizona, particularly after besmirching the international adulation that The Star Spangled Banner attracts at this, the eyrie of American Football.

Well, America, Christina Aguilera actually is American - born in New York and grew up in Pennsylvania. I am fairly certain that she knows the national anthem and has sung it more than once. The Star Spangled Banner is all in English - the language that all nationals and some immigrants can speak - and has been the anthem since before Methuselah hit puberty. And the national pride seeping out of America's every pore means that most babies can sing the anthem before they can identify their parents. Although Aguilera's parents were (legal) immigrants, she was born American, is American, has been educated American... in fact she's probably had American rammed down her (very talented) throat since she was born. The US is such a deeply proud nation that I find it a hard concept to imagine that anyone who has vocal cords cannot belt out the song at will.

So cocking up a line that sounds the same doesn't mean that Aguilera failed to prepare for the most-watched show on American television. Had she been off-key, then yes, accusations about not taking the occasion seriously enough and under-preparing would have been just. Had she worn the national colours of Cuba, then yes you could accuse her of being all sorts of things. If she was a black folk and a political leader then you could accuse her of destroying the country.

But sometimes people make a mistake when they are singing for the largest crowd in front of which they will ever perform (in this case 111 million people).

And sometimes they just sommer make a mistake for no reason - just ask your average white South African to sing Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, if you don't know what I mean.

In case you're interested, here is how the USA National Anthem should sound (song starts at about 1.20):