Friends & Friction: Oscar trial takes Brand SA global

2014-04-15 10:00

Yes sir. Yes ma’am. We’ve hosted them all and we’ve hosted them well. The rugby World Cup, the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the 2010 Fifa World Cup and now the marathon trials of Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani.

Believe it or not, this is good for business because it puts South Africa top of mind. It’s free advertising.

Of course, we don’t expect investors to say: “Hi, I am here to invest because I liked the way Justice Thokozile Masipa handled the Oscar Pistorius case.”

No, but like all good advertising, it sneaks the brand into the subconscious mind of the investor for it to simmer.

The image that has been beamed to the world is that South Africa is as capable as any First World country under the rule of law and a sophisticated justice system to enforce those laws.

Legal disputes are a way of life in business. As we speak, Apple and Samsung are returning to court to resolve their patent disputes. So, when investors feel wronged in South Africa, they know they can approach the courts.

This is not your everyday “sweet” advertising trying to polish a you-know-what. It is the real stuff, a slice of life, South Africa at work-type of advertising.

As South Africans, we can never thank Justice Masipa enough for the way she is handling the Pistorius case.

As for the Dewani case, the matter takes a bit of a different colour under Judge President John Hlophe.

He is like an actor with an oversized reputation that ends up distracting the viewer’s attention from the brand in the commercial. Hlophe is an example of affirmative action gone horribly wrong.

Judges are normally appointed from senior advocates?–?men and women who have done their time learning the mastery and manner of their craft and, in the process, becoming dedicated disciples of its various disciplines.

This is because law, like religion, is a belief system. People must believe in the legal process with all its pomp and traditions, which are there to guide the behaviour of its office bearers. Not Judge Hlophe. He jumped from being a lecturer at the then University of Transkei to become the first black judge at the high court in the Western Cape.

This was around 1995 or so. It was not long before black lawyers started complaining on the streets that he had become part of the white establishment, with an attitude that said: “If you were as good as everyone said you were, black advocate, then why aren’t you sitting here?”

It’s not that there weren’t any black advocates at the time. Many had refused to become judges at the time because they felt they did not possess the financial cushion to sit comfortably on the Bench.

The country had just stepped out of apartheid, where black advocates were excluded from lucrative commercial work.

Also, many had been human rights lawyers doing work pro Deo (for God) and relying on donations from anti-apartheid organisations to pay their fees.

It wasn’t long before the “white establishment” spat Hlophe out. He then wrote a letter to Justice Pius Langa blowing the whistle on racism as if it was a new phenomenon in South Africa.

Poor Hlophe, he was also found to be moonlighting as a consultant without permission from the minister of justice.

The performance of lawyers in court is always a matter of interest to communications people because they have to convince a court or the jury in some overseas countries.

Advertising journals still cite Johnnie Cochran, one of OJ Simpson’s defence lawyers, as one of the best performers in communication. Unlike in South Africa, Cochran wasn’t trying to convince a judge and his assessors, but a whole jury.

In the 1995 murder trial, the prosecution had overwhelming DNA evidence, backed by expert witnesses, that supported its argument that OJ, a former football star and actor, had killed his former wife Nicole. But Cochran focused on one thing: a blood-soaked glove linked to the killing that did not fit OJ’s hand.

This country has many challenges, but at least we can say: “We are fit to be counted among the best in the world.”

Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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