Cartoon: Bethuel Mangena/African News Agency(ANA)
Cartoon: Bethuel Mangena/African News Agency(ANA)

Patrice Motsepe’s blunder a PR nightmare

By Victor Kgmoeswana Time of article published Feb 2, 2020

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Someone, please explain how one of Africa’s shrewdest, richest, smartest and entrepreneurial icons managed such a continental PR blunder, on the biggest stage of all, in January, at that.

In under five days, we went from “Africa loves America; Africa loves you” to an apology by kingmaker Patrice Motsepe - if not the king himself. This is a pioneer of note. He impressively built on his professional training, a moment in the history of South Africa’s political economic history and fortuitously powerful family ties to create an empire. Be it his African Rainbow foray into mining, the innovative TymeBank or professionalisation of Mamelodi Sundowns into a continental force, you have to hand it to this celebrated son of Ga-Rankuwa: he is a big deal.

Remember Hugh Evans, chief and founder of the Global Citizen Festival, last December announcing that commitments from the showpiece brought by Motsepe to our shores in 2018 were “over 83% on track, and more than R12 billion has been delivered across South Africa over the last 12 months”?

That is an illustration of the league in which the man plays. When he hosts a party, heads of state, the powerful and all manner of outliers turn up, dressed to the nines and armed with hard cash to tithe.

With all these, one can expect at least an appreciation that a statement made - even in jest - carries with it tectonic ripple effects. Inevitably, therefore, when suiting himself up for that dinner with the tweeting president in Davos, it is not too much to assume his PR team would go through the dos and don’ts with the man? No? 

With the rest of Team South Africa in Switzerland and lots of African influencers present, was it not logical and prudent to send out feelers to what sentiment would find resonance with greater Africa - or at least which one would stir up untold outrage? Was this an oversight on his part, a set-up to embarrass him, being overawed by the moment or the host; or are we overreacting? If we are, there are too many of us to ignore, at any rate.

The problem with such blunders from a dollar billionaire philanthropist who counts President Cyril Ramaphosa and Jeff Radebe his brothers-in-law, is how it reflects the lack of cohesiveness among Africa’s powerful on a character as colourful as Ivanka’s dad in the Oval Office.

Ramaphosa takes over the chair of the AU this month, in the wake of South Africa’s compromised relations with the rest of the continent because of recent attacks on foreign nationals, a stagnant economy and a country in a drawn-out recovery phase.

His role in rallying fellow heads of state to advance the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and African Renaissance hit a speed hump, thanks to a lapse of concentration by someone close to him. Motsepe is an intelligent and savvy operator. If not a concentration lapse, worse; does this man not understand how divisive the Trump administration has been? Does he care?

Fresh from commending Ramaphosa for skipping Davos 2020, one must plead with him to find ways to better harmonise our international relations messaging. If Africa cannot agree on what to say on Trump, how can it co-ordinate anti-coronavirus efforts, given how interwoven our aviation routes are with China?

* Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs

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