What might appear to be weirdly naive statements from President Jacob Zuma and his spokesman, Mac Maharaj, is actually quite the opposite if one applies an objective marketing filter to them all.
In spite of the African National Congress having lost votes in the general elections earlier this year, they still have a massive majority in parliament by any global standards. Which in the cold light of dawn, means that their communications strategy continues to be efficient regardless of the wave of industrial strikes, disastrous value of the Rand, shocking crime and road death statistics, dumbed down education system and, not least of which, rolling service delivery protests.
But, while the mass media are mystified by how he can stay in power claiming that
the Nkandla issue exists only in the imagination of “clever people” and that corruption is merely a western concept, Zuma does clearly appeal to the masses.
A clue to what seems to be a suicidal strategy from the Mac Maharaj School of Communications can be seen in the fact that that roughly 70% of the South African population have only the SABC as their source of information. Small wonder the board is crammed with cadres.
And it is to this 70% that Zama and Maharaj, along with practically the entire cabinet, direct their communication.
Then add to this certain cultural factors and it becomes quite clear that to the majority of South Africans, the president or ‘chief’ of the nation is respected come what may and that his word is law.
Include in this mix the powerful struggle credentials of the ANC and it is hardly surprising to witness violent service delivery protests in ANC constituencies and the following day that same group of protestors going to the polls and voting ANC.
It is probably safe to say that one of the major reasons for the ANC’s success at the polls lies in the fact that voting for the ANC and complaining about crime, unemployment and lack of service delivery, are two entirely different things.
I believe Zuma is quite right. Nkandla is only an issue among clever people. And if one studies the way business and politics is run in many West African and far Eastern countries, corruption is very much a western notion and bribery, jobs for pals and relatives, are not crimes. Nor have they been for ages.
So, much as the media and clever people might mock the man who smuggled Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ manuscript out of Robben Island prison, Maharaj is certainly no fool and nor is his boss.
From a pure marketing perspective, they know their target market and they understand the culture of the majority of voters.
Zuma is a very canny and clever man and a pretty good communicator and marketer.
From the point of view of developing a strategy to stay in power and keep the ANC flag flying high, they have done extremely well.
That is until the opening of parliament a few months ago when, for the first time, the ANC found themselves facing an opposition party applying precisely the same communications strategy.
So, while Zuma might have held the high ground in terms of mass communication strategy ever since Polokwane, he is now a very distinct runner up to the master marketer, Julius Malema.
Not only has Malema managed in a very short space of time to form a political party and gain an unexpectedly high number of seats in parliament, but he has been able to have an impact on a large section of the masses and has actually gained the respect, if not necessarily the votes, of the “clever people” by using parliament to demand Zuma “pay back the money”, condemning e-tolls and a host of other issues.
Political life in South Africa is now probably at its most fascinating.
The marketing of politicians is a growing trend and it would be unwise to write off Zuma and the faithful Mac or write Malema off as a nutcase.
Their only weakness might be a belief in their own invincibility.