President Cyril Ramaphosa must stop being “Mr Nice Guy” if he is to stop the disinformation campaign against him by Zuma supporters, or face the risk that lies repeated could be perceived as the truth, said a reputation management expert.
“The president needs to fight fire with fire. He’s been Mr Nice Guy for far too long. He’s very skilled at playing the long game, which is strategic. Sometimes, street tactics are needed and this is one of those times,” said Clive Simpkins, a reputation strategist.
Propaganda against Ramaphosa is intensifying on social media and other public platforms after it emerged that his ANC presidential campaign was funded with millions of rands from mainly white capitalists and prominent black individuals.
The information from leaked e-mails was published in a Sunday newspaper which named the businesspeople allegedly involved and the amounts each donated to the CR-17 campaign.
Ramaphosa accused Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane of being behind the leaking of the confidential information to the media.
“The information, supposedly held only by the public protector, includes bank statements of third parties, which record private transactions and which are strictly confidential,” the Presidency said.
Ramaphosa said he ran a “clean campaign” when he contested for the ANC presidency prior to December 2017.
He was challenging Mkhwebane in court over what has become known as the “Ramaphosaleaks”. His lawyers asked the court that certain information contained in the public protector’s investigation against the president not be made public.
Reacting to the huge anti-Ramaphosa campaign underway on social media, Simpkins warned that disinformation had “become a dangerous tool of the digital era, particularly with the use of bots that echo and amplify negative messaging about someone”.
“It is entirely possible to do irreparable damage to someone’s reputation if they don’t fight back and have the support of people committed to the truth.
“A negative message repeated often enough will eventually convince many people there must be at least some truth to it.”
Simpkins said the Nazis used exactly that approach and even today, neo-Nazis use the same tactics in the US and Europe.
“There is a concerted campaign to damage the president by whatever means. Huge deflection by the Economic Freedom Fighters and the public protector, whose bona fides are now under serious question. She appears to be being used as an instrument to amplify anti-Ramaphosa messaging, wittingly or unwittingly. And my suspicion is the former.”
Since the news of the Ramaphosa donation saga broke at the weekend, tweets from Zuma supporters, some using pseudonyms, have portrayed Ramaphosa as evil. That he bought a buffalo bull which he sold for R4 million was amplified, and pictures of the Marikana massacre were posted on social media with captions indicating Ramaphosa was behind the deaths of the miners.
Zuma was interviewed on a YouTube channel where he said that when he was president, he was accused of fighting then-public protector Thuli Madonsela after he ignored her remedial actions on his Nkandla homestead, but now the same was being done by Ramaphosa, whom he did not name, the current public protector was seen to be in the wrong.
Simpkins said there appeared to be a public war against Ramaphosa by Zuma followers on various platforms, including social media.
“Zuma was never going to go quietly. He exhibits all the symptoms of a narcissist – not dissimilar from Donald Trump – in that he has a grandiose view of himself and his competence. Key to narcissistic behaviour is that they’re never responsible for anything going wrong. It’s always circumstances or other people,” Simpkins said.
He did not believe the anti-Ramaphosa propaganda campaign would win because there were too many South Africans of good will who were “thoroughly fed-up with the past decades of corruption and damage to the country”.
Asked if the British public relations firm Bell Pottinger, which closed after running a racist propaganda campaign in South Africa, was influencing what was currently happening to Ramaphosa, Simpkins said: “I believe that Bell Pottinger operatives or their spawn are still behind much of the nonsense going on, likely funded by the Guptas using Zuma and his faction as a proxy.
“Anything to stop the real truth about themselves from emerging.”