Recently the City of Johannesburg decided it had to do something to improve its image, as it was the largest and most important city in South Africa, and the economic heartland thereof. So they put out tenders to various Public Relations agencies to promote the city and its uniqueness and what makes Johannesburg the first choice of city in South Africa.
The tenders ranged in price from R145 000.00 to R55m: quite a jump from one to the other, however they decided on, at a snip at R10m, to employ the services of Mraaga, Nodlovu, Sobosi and Steenkamp. Since this transpired, my inbox has been deluged by an e-mail, a leaked report of the meeting at which the promotion of Johannesburg was discussed. Councillor Vusi Mamadela was present at the meetings, in order to report to the Metro and Mayor Parks Tau.
‘Hrrrmph, hrrmph! This meeting is now called to order!’
Everyone looked expectantly at the councillor. ‘We have employed you people at great cost… because we…that is the City of Johannesburg…are suffering from the newspapers and their lies. We have to fight back and make Johannesburg attractive to investors…and people…who want to live here.’
It was now his turn to look expectant. ‘Do you have any plans I can take back to the Mayor?’
Ephraim Mraaga stood slowly to his feet, a huge, bulky man in a very expensive suit. ‘We have met and discussed this issue at hand…’ coughing politely into hand, then wiping hand on trousers… 'and after much consultation between myself and my colleagues, have decided on a course of action that will satisfy the vast majority of stakeholders in this wonderful city and please the Honourable Mayor Parks Tau himself.’
‘I’m very pleased to hear that, Comrade Ephraim, as it was very difficult to get you appointed to this task ahead of Tau Dynamics Public Relations, which came in with a very impressive proposal at R55m, which you must admit is extremely impressive.’
‘Yes, Comrade Vusi, it is indeed, and we appreciate the fact that you have given us this task.’
‘So, let me hear what you have come up with.’
Ephriam looked at the youngest person there, a skinny young black guy with cornrow hair and a shiny suit: the picture of young, dynamic African sophistication. ‘Bra Leo, would you like to explain our concept to Councillor Vusi?’
‘Sure thing,’ he said, rolling his r’s just enough to make him sound like a DJ on Metro FM. ‘First thing, is to change peoples’ perceptions about this city: turn the negatives into positives, and here’s how we go about it.’
Councillor Vusi nodded in appreciation: he knew he’d been accused of nepotism, but his cousin was doing the job, it would seem. ‘Carry on,’ he said, with a wave of his hand. Bra Leo switched on the Proxima, bringing up an image on screen, the famous, or infamous image of Johannesburg.
‘This is how everybody sees Jozi,’ said Bra Leo. ‘But we want to change that.’ He clicked on the remote and another image appeared, still Johannesburg, but looking as smart and well-lit as any international city. ‘That is the image we want to project. Johannesburg must go; Jozi is the new name, and we must make it official.’ Councillor Vusi nodded, and the rest of the delegates eyed him closely. They relaxed; the plan seemed to be working.
‘The first thing we want to concentrate on is our slogan, “Gateway to Africa.”’
‘But that is not your slogan,’ said Councillor Vusi. ‘It’s been used for years!’
‘I know, Comrade Vusi, but we want to appropriate it for our campaign.’
Councillor Vusi nodded. ‘Carry on.’
A wide-angle shot of Johannesburg’s leafy northern suburbs appeared on screen. ‘Jozi is already known as a city in a forest, in fact, the largest man-made forest in the world, so we have to trade on that, and here’s how we do it.’ He spread his hands before changing the picture to that of overgrown pavements. ‘Jozi, where you come to experience Africa! The largest man-made forest in the world, blending seamlessly with a growth of natural vegetation all along our beautiful roads. Trimmed verges and manicured lawns are for Europe, this is the Gateway to Africa, where you experience Africa from the airport all the way to your hotel, and beyond.’
‘Our road network is one of the most extensive in the world, and has now become a prime attraction for four-wheel drive enthusiasts, where they no longer have to spend money to go on four-by-four survival courses. They have the added incentive of avoiding the potholes and taxis simultaneously. What other first-world city in the world can offer you this benefit?’
Bra Leo was in full poetic flight now, with Councillor Vusi hanging on his every word. ‘ Jozi has the highest crime rate in the world, but is this a bad thing? If we did not have the wealth, we could not draw the criminals, and it has created jobs for thousands of people, and business opportunities for hundreds more, not to speak of the increase in profits being shown by the scrap metal dealers and pawn shops.’
‘Jozi has the highest per capita cell phone ownership in the world, and this is because of the enterprising spirit shown in the so-called crime wave, which is really just a form of justifiable redistribution. What the people of this city have failed to realise, is that the very wealth this city allows them to generate, is being equitably distributed via informal means.’
Everyone around the boardroom table stood to their feet, clapping: this was inspirational!
Bra Leo was in full oratorical flow now. ‘I say, let us put a stop to the township tours: they are not a fair reflection of our fair city. Let us take them to Hillbrow and show them the sights. The locals could do the same thing, and see that rubbish collection is not an option in Hillbrow, but an art form. Hillbrow residents do not have their rubbish collected by Pickitup, they are recipients from Pickitup, and are proud of the work being done there.’
‘Instead of residents of Johannesburg complaining about the robots always being out of order, we should show them that this is an opportunity for small business to flourish, as vendors sell everything imaginable and, as a result, help to keep the smash and grab artists away. So the robots being out of order must be viewed in a positive light. Your car is kept safe while it is sitting and idling at the junction.’
Again the entire constituency of the boardroom rose to its feet, clapping and cheering, with someone even blowing a vuvuzela. This was better than they could have imagined!
‘When residents complain about the corruption of our traffic officials, they must first think about the cost of paying them higher salaries, and the personal cost to them, in fines, if these officers did not seek bribes to supplement their income. These men have families! Some of them more than one: so how can we expect them to survive on what they get paid? It’s just not fair, and we will show the residents of Jozi just what it is they’re paying for.’
He took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat off his brow. Now his voice dropped to scarcely a whisper. ‘Billing chaos. This is one of the complaints people have, but they do not realise that every time they get a correct bill…’ he shouted the next words…’it is a triumph for democracy! Yes, that is what it is, for they will feel that they, they alone, have won the fight, while their fellow residents receive insanely high bills.’ Again his voice reduced in volume, so that they had to crane forward to hear him. ‘Then we reduce the bill, still higher than it’s supposed to be, but we reduce it, and they smell victory.’ He held his arms and shouted, ‘Victory!’
‘When the residents complain about the non-functionality of our hospitals, we can say to them, with pride, that Jozi has the best non-functioning hospitals in the world! More people die needless deaths in our state hospitals than anywhere else in the world, and when the NHF comes in, we will tell them that that was our plan all along.’
He studied them now, all eagerly leaning forward, waiting to hear his next hypnotic words. ‘We will put strings of lights on all the tall buildings in Jozi, and at night it will rival New York or London for visual splendour. A city that residents will be proud to call home!’
‘We will offer free advertising space to all the major corporations, as long as they pay for the electricity and put up the signs, so we will have neon signs for Johnny Walker and Black Label and all the things that made this country, and this city, great.’
‘We will show the residents of this city, that non-functioning street lights are in fact a way to draw attention to the beauty of Jozi, especially from the air. This, Comrade Councillor Vusi, will put Jozi on the map, and make its residents proud to be citizens of this wonderful city.’
He sat down and, as one, those around the boardroom table rose to applaud him, the vuvuzela adding to the festival atmosphere. He was sweating, the perspiration running down his face in rivulets, but he was pleased with the presentation.
Councilor Vusi stood up. ‘You have done a good job here, a very, very good job. You can expect a call from SANRAL in the very near future.’