In the frantic months and weeks leading up to Wednesday’s municipal elections, it seemed one could barely walk down the street without tripping over yet another celebrity desperately trying to promote and endorse the ANC.
The list of people we often quite generously call “celebs” in this country – who in some form or another came out to lend their “star power” to the governing party – appeared to be getting longer by the day.
Rapper AKA was particularly vocal, but I even spotted Zahara at the final stadium rally last Sunday. She had reportedly been missing out on gigs owing to being “back in rehab”, according to the tabloids, but it seemed that nothing could keep her away from showing her love for Jacob Zuma and company.
Why did the ANC think the South African voter would be interested in getting political advice from people who generally know a lot more about beats, rhymes, lyrics, singing, dancing, screenplays, make-up, fashion, parties, playing musical beds with each other, showing off their houses and rides on Instagram and, yes, going to rehab? Perhaps the ANC thinks the South African voter is stupid. Over the years, they’ve often been accused of that. There’s an irony in the fact that many of the musicians who endorsed the party so enthusiastically can also be lumped into an overarching genre called “urban” – because it was in the urban areas that the ANC’s performance in these elections was at its most dismal.
That means, quite honestly, that this horde of celebs failed in precisely the places where they were meant to help.
It’s not hard to understand why. Our democracy is maturing. People are starting to care more about what politicians actually do than what they promise to someday do. Voters are caring less about all the war stories of what politicians went through in the 1980s and more about the far less dramatic but more important everyday things such as clean running water, jobs, roads, proper sanitation, electricity, crime, corruption, nepotism, etc, in communities crying out for good service.
What does that celeb who only last week posed in ripped jeans next to an AMG Mercedes – bottle of Champagne in hand – care about the hardships in townships? He can pay lip service to it (yes, just like politicians, but with even less credibility).
Let’s not kid ourselves – these celebs are people who like to speak of themselves as “personal brands”. What that means is that if you want them to do anything for you or with you, you have to pay them. Want Khanyi Mbau or Boity Thulo to come to your nightclub for a party? No cheques please. Cash or EFT only.
Then there’s also the fact that government is one of the biggest customers for artists and many others in this country – not to mention the small matter of wanting to be part of the SABC’s 90%-local pie, which ANC lapdog Hlaudi Motsoeneng decides.
The voters know this. Maybe some of them thought these sparkling people were doing it out of a genuine passion for politics. Even if the celeb concerned was being genuine, how could we possibly know the difference?
EFF leader Julius Malema has alleged that the ANC was so desperate to woo the support of local artists that it even organised tenders through the department of water and sanitation – of all things – to throw a mountain of cash at a record label, Mabala Noise, which paid signing fees of R5 million to each of its artists. If true, one can only wonder if this taxpayer money formed part of the supposed R1 billion that Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane boasted about the ANC spending on its election campaign.
This is the same ANC that was once known for its real, global, celebrities in its ranks. Can you imagine the party’s now departed superstar, Nelson Mandela, even once paying a single celebrity a single cent to do something for him?
It didn’t matter who was standing next to Mandela – it was always so-and-so with Mandela. “Who’s that next to Madiba? Oh, Bono? Oprah? Muhammad Ali? Obama? The Queen of England? The pope? Who are they?”
All these celebs now being paid for their allegiance by the ANC were once the same people prepared to stand in a long, long queue (like everybody else) just to get that photo opportunity with the icon. Madiba didn’t pay celebrities for their time. He told them that he expected them to use their time to benefit others. He filled whole stadiums by using the pulling power of international superstars who were only too willing to give of their talent and time for free to benefit many of Mandela’s great passions: improving the lives of children and the generally less fortunate most of all. They did it because he humbled them, as he humbled us all. The most memorable part was how he always told whoever was fortunate to be spending five minutes with him that he, Mandela, was nobody, and how special it was for him to meet them, even if they were “just” a dishwasher in a restaurant.
Would any of our parochial little celebs stand in a queue today for a photo with Zuma, you think? Aside from, perhaps, that photo’s novelty value as being good for a laugh? I doubt it.
Now this once proud party of political giants has to go grovelling, wallet outstretched, to try to lure the endorsements of skinny, boastful rappers who slap other rappers in the face over beefs no one even genuinely cares about or understands.