Agency for change

2009-06-03 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Black Jerusalem

Happy Ntshingila with John Smeddle

Umuzi

FED up with the ranting of Julius Malema? Then this book is the antidote.

Written by a survivor of the Soweto uprising, it is a highly personal account of South Africa’s first black-run advertising agency, HerdBuoys, founded in 1991. Having experienced a real revolution in 1976, they opted for the evolution of the marketplace.

Happy Ntshingila writes with a light and often humorous touch. His is a classic tale of the triumph of determination, intelligence and initiative over adverse circumstances. HerdBuoys, by successfully reading the pulse of the growing black consumer market as apartheid unravelled, ran rings around the white establishment. In fact, they took over part of it.

But you don’t have to be particularly interested in advertising to enjoy this book. For example, Ntshingila’s accounts of his company’s relationships with Coca-Cola and South African Airways are entertaining and insightful. Arrogant foreigners and incompetent local affirmative-action appointees fall equally to his scathing pen. And he has a passionate rant against cellphone culture, although that battle has clearly been lost long ago.

He asks all too briefly about the identity of liberation’s victors and suggests they are those who occupy the middle ground between naïveté and cynicism. These, he decides, are the people with worthwhile values, although he remains quiet about how many of them there might be.

This is how South Africa should have grown, and all too frequently didn’t. Confident young black businesspeople took responsibility for their lives, and the rough with the smooth, and built a niche for themselves around their own undoubted talents. There are no undeserving victims in this uplifting book.

At a cost of over R2 per page, it’s no small investment. But there are a dozen pages of colour plates, most of them illustrating the quality of the work of HerdBuoys.

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