Guest Column

The use of influencers in politics is nothing new

2019-03-12 12:02
Geoffrey Makhubo (Nelius Rademan/Foto24 Gauteng)

Geoffrey Makhubo (Nelius Rademan/Foto24 Gauteng)

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The ANC has never shied from using influencers. In fact, the party has and openly used the influence of those who share its mission and values during and after the fight against apartheid, writes Geoff Makhubo.

Former US president Lyndon B. Johnson reportedly once said: "If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: 'President Can't Swim.'"

One does not need to be a follower of Johnson's or his politics to appreciate the sentiment behind his statement.

The ANC understands this better than most because, no matter how common and acceptable a practice is in society, when it is the party or individuals associated with it involved, it somehow makes headlines with insinuations of wrongdoing even where none exists.

Take the article "ANC gambles on Twitter influencers" by Susan Comrie on March 1, for example.

Comrie, from amaBhungane, runs a long article on the use of influencers without answering what is unique about the ANC or its members engaging an influencer. To her and to amaBhungane, it must be suspicious purely because the influencer involved happens to be supporting an ANC point of view.

Comrie then makes insinuations that the use of influencers is doing what they (influencers) are doing for personal gain rather than for the party. It is important to clear this up and say that my competencies do not lie in marketing nor communication, this is something that is managed by those who have been tasked with doing so at the ANC.

In as far as influencers on Twitter being on my payroll, nothing could be further from the truth.

The ANC has never shied from using influencers. In fact, the party has and openly used the influence of those who share its mission and values.

It has done this during and after the fight against apartheid. It has done this at home and abroad.

What's more, celebrities using their status as political influencers is hardly unique to South Africa or to the ANC.

Just recently, the DA pulled in local pop stars Moonchild, TDK Macasette and Ricky Rick to appear at the launch of their party manifesto. One wonders whether this too constitutes "gambling with pop stars".

Using fame to make a political statement

Muhammad Ali's views on the Vietnam War is another such example. His quote: "No, I will not go 10 000 miles from here to help murder and kill another poor people simply to continue the domination of white slave masters over the darker people of the Earth," is probably one of the most prominent anti-war statements ever made by a sporting personality.

The same goes for when African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raised a black gloved fist during the playing of the US national anthem at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. They used their fame and platform to make a political statement and endorse a particular political belief.

Harry Belafonte, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and even sports stars like Steve Kalamazoo Mokone used their fame and status to further the anti-apartheid programme overseas. We could mention a dozen other names.

American elections regularly use personalities to endorse their campaigns, with Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of then candidate Barack Obama estimated to have been worth a million votes for Obama.

Even the apartheid government used influencers in the form of sports and artists who regularly defied sporting and cultural sanctions against South Africa by playing and performing here during apartheid.

As it is to be expected of a party that at least 6 out of ten voters have consistently voted for, the are many occasions when members of society have used their own fame, platform, spaces and even personal wealth, for the greater benefit of the party.

Naturally, some influencers acted out of their own volition while others needed to be engaged.

No shame in influencers supporting the ANC

The point that remains is that the ANC and individuals involved with the party should never have to feel ashamed and they should see such articles for what they are: an attempt to scare off those who in the future would want to use their personal brand to advance the course of the ANC.

We see these desperate attempts to cast aspersions on the ANC or those who support it in whatever way for what they are.

As a political party that seeks to continue influencing society as it has done for 107 years, the ANC will continue to tap into other skills, resources, networks and all legal and acceptable ways of remaining in touch with society.

As a governing party at national level and in 8 of the 9 provinces, we expect that the ANC will be under scrutiny. But if it must respond or defend itself, it should be for something far more serious than having it or its supporters being accused of tweeting views favourable to the party.

- Geoff Makhubo writes in his personal capacity.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    anc  |  muhammad ali  |  oprah winfrey  |  social media
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