Marketing guru and author Louis Wilsenach, 79, who died of Covid-19 on Monday morning, was hugely influential in shaping the South African political landscape during the transition to democracy and is credited with coining the term “New South Africa” as early as 1984.
In a 2015 interview on the Christian programme Watchmen on the Wall , Wilsenach recounted how he had been approached to work on marketing campaigns for the National Party in the early 1980s.
Dr Piet Koornhof, who was the minister of cooperation and development at the time, asked him to help the party modernise its image.
This initially began with the redesign of the party logo to attract English-speaking voters. Wilsenach came up with a new logo with the letters NP forming two arrows showing upward with the slogan “Forward Together”.
Wilsenach recalled that then prime minister BJ Vorster was impressed with the new design.
“They loved it. As I walked out of Libertas (the presidential residence now known as Mahlamba Ndlopfu), I said to Koornhof, I’m glad you like it, but it’s going to cost R32,000.”
Koornhof apparently told Wilsenach that he shouldn’t expect payment, but that working for the government would open many doors for him.
“I said to him, keep your doors closed. I don’t want you to open any doors for me.”
The next day, Wilsenach received word that he would be paid.
Wilsenach was then approached to market the apartheid government’s next big project: the introduction of the tricameral parliament. This involved the implementation of “power-sharing” between the white, coloured, and Indian communities.
Convinced that this was a “terrible idea” because it excluded black people, Wilsenach said he told PW Botha, who was by then prime minister, that he opposed the concept.
“He didn’t even wag a finger, he just looked at me,” Wilsenach said.
Wilsenach recalled how, during a holiday on the KwaZulu-Natal coast in 1984, the term “New South Africa” came to him.
“The Lord said to me: ‘I’ll give you three words that will change South Africa forever.'”
Wilsenach said he was told to keep it to himself as God first had to “anoint the ears of those who will hear”.
When FW de Klerk became president in 1989 following the ousting of Botha, Wilsenach says he was consulted about the way forward.
In a one-on-one meeting with De Klerk, Wilsenach recalled how he told the newly elected head of state: “God told me there are three words that will change the history of South Africa. If you take it to heart, then He will do mighty work in South Africa.”
Wilsenach said he then introduced De Klerk to the concept of the “New South Africa”.
“The secret of the three words is that nothing of the old South Africa can go into the new South Africa.”
Following this meeting, Wilsenach said he was asked to present the concept at the first Cabinet meeting following De Klerk’s ascension to power.
“By that time I had fleshed out the campaign and told them about the New South Africa and why some of the old stuff had to fall by the wayside. And suddenly the first guy jumped up and it was [former defence minister] Magnus Malan. And he said to the president: ‘You had better remove that man because he’s talking the biggest nonsense.’ And the next guy jumped up, and the next guy jumped up – all the conservative guys jumped up and said: ‘Silence that man!’
“And suddenly, [former foreign affairs minister] Pik Botha got up with his hands in the air and he said: ‘Hallelujah, I’ve been waiting for this moment for 19 years!'”
“The concept was accepted. It was wonderful,” Wilsenach said.
De Klerk told News24: “I am saddened by the death of my friend, Louis Wilsenach, and reach out to his family and friends. He was a man of exceptional talent. His contribution towards the campaign of the National Party in the years of transition was exceptional. The messages he helped me and the National Party to send out were vibrant and powerful, and credit should go to him for the coining of the phrase, the ‘New South Africa’. May he rest in peace.”
Apart from his work with the National Party, Wilsenach was a respected author and advertising executive who worked on campaigns for big brands such as Nik Naks, Simba and Ouma rusks.
He was also a poet, artist and writer. He penned the Afrikaans book, Aha! Die Fenomeen, in which he wrote inspirational stories about famous people. It included the testimonies of 25 people, including former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba, author Deon Meyer and former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar.
Wilsenach died at a private hospital in Mogale City, Johannesburg, on Monday after he was admitted on Saturday following a positive test for Covid-19.
At the time of publication, Gauteng recorded 633 coronavirus cases out of the 1,353 people infected nationally.