“I Am an African” was a speech made by Thabo Mbeki in Cape Town on 8 May 1996, on the occasion of the passing of the new Constitution of South Africa. At the time Mbeki was the vice president of South Africa under the presidency of Nelson Mandela, and the speech is credited with defining the political mood of the moment in post-Apartheid South Africa.
I am reminded of this speech after stumbling across the Telkom SA TV campaign, for the first time late last week, in which Usain Bolt is used to promote the company’s fibre-to-the-home broadband offering, branded as ‘Boltspeed’ (I later came to realise that the campaign has been on air for a few months, so clearly I was not targeted). After digging I also learnt that in a statement credited to Telkom Chief Marketing Officer, Enzo Scarcella explained that the decision to use the Jamaican sprinter; was taken to assist in creating awareness of the speed, consistency and reliability that fibre technology offers.
This I found confusing because in their Integrated Report dated 31 March 2015, Telkom SA describes their purpose as being to “Seamlessly connect South Africans to a better life.” In the same report, this Mission is also said to be underpinned by a value system recognised by the acronym CHART – Continuous improvement – Honesty – Accountability – Respect – Teamwork. The Respect in the acronym is defined as “the RESPECT we show to ourselves, to each other, to our customers and to our world.”
You see, in his speech when Thabo Mbheki said:
“At times, and in fear, I have wondered whether I should concede equal citizenship of our country to the leopard and the lion, the elephant and the springbok, the hyena, the black mamba and the pestilential mosquito. A human presence among all of these, a feature on the face of our native land thus defined, I know that none dare challenge me when I say – I am an African!”
He was not just referring to the claim one has to the label of being an African by the right of birth. But he was also referring to the task of being an African, by living out the values one claims to espouse. This is why, he goes on to say:
“My mind and my knowledge of myself is formed by the victories that are the jewels in our African crown, the victories we earned from Isandhlwana to Khartoum, as Ethiopians and as Ashanti of Ghana, as Berbers of the desert.”
What good are these victories if we do not celebrate them ourselves? Surely the only way the values which make us African can sustain our society, is when the institutions which represent that which the world considers progressive, are also living out those values.
So, Telkom SA, how about some respect?
How on earth does a parastatal, go all the way to get Usain Bolt (because he is the fastest) when you have Wayde van Niekerk, who is the fastest man at 400 m in the world, right here at home? And if he wasn’t good enough for you money, you could have used Chad Le Clos. I ask again, with tears in my eyes, what good are these victories if we pay them no mind? At a time when the sentiment around South Africa is at its worst, credit ratings about to go junk. What message are you sending to the rest of the world when you over look our own, even if they are the best in the world?
“I have seen concrete expression of the denial of the dignity of a human being emanating from the conscious, systemic and systematic oppressive and repressive activities of other human beings.
I have seen the destruction of all sense of self-esteem, the consequent striving to be what one is not, simply to acquire some of the benefits which those who had imposed themselves as masters had ensured that they enjoy.”
…says Mbeki towards the end.
You have to ask yourself, Telkom SA. As an institution, is that what you want your brand to be associated with?
Just a thought.
The tempest prognosticator