Should celebs endorse political parties?

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Actress Jessica Nkosi attended the ANC’s 20-day countdown to municipal elections in Newtown
Actress Jessica Nkosi attended the ANC’s 20-day countdown to municipal elections in Newtown

As stars attended this week’s ANC poll countdown rally, the jury was out on the risk-reward consequences for celebs who go public about the party they favour

The ANC raised eyebrows on Wednesday when it rallied the country’s popular celebrities to publicly endorse it – raising questions about whether it was beneficial for musicians and public figures to declare their political affiliations.

So far, musicians have been able to participate in various party rallies across the country, without the pressure of declaring which political party they personally support or plan to vote for.

Yet, at the launch of the ANC’s Countdown to Victory campaign in anticipation of the upcoming municipal polls – hosted on Wednesday night at The Market theatre in Newtown, Johannesburg – celebrities including Khanyi Mbau, Kelly Khumalo, Nhlanhla Nciza, Criselda Dudumashe, Jimmy Tau, Mike Mangena and others came in their numbers to endorse the ruling party.

Sylvester Chauke, a brand strategist and the founder of DNA Brand Architects, said endorsing a political party could be compromising and damaging to an individual’s personal brand.

He added that he believed brands ought to be “neutral when it comes to religion and politics”.

“Declaring publicly which political brand you belong to as a celebrity can be damaging, because you have selected a brand to promote,” he said.

On the one hand, he said, people should carefully consider the fact that political parties were also brands; while on the other, given that South Africa was a democratic country, celebrities were within their rights to be “vocal about the political party they support”.

“However, endorsing a political party may compromise a celebrity, because people are aware that public figures cannot endorse a political party for the fun of it; at the end of the day they are compensated.”

Another brand strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity – “out of respect for my clients” – told City Press that while everyone had the right to hold a political view, the matter at stake was the public declaration of one’s affiliation.

“This seems to be the politics of the stomach. Most of these guys [public figures] who are out there suddenly endorsing parties are actually empty when it comes to politics,” he said.

Some public figures were endorsing political parties either to “curry favour” or influence followers, he added. “Our history in South Africa points to the former.”

Asked if this would damage their brands, he said that, ultimately, it could. “Yet South African voters are forgiving and tend to move on quickly.”

But, he cautioned celebrities, “if you endorse party X, it means you rise and fall by its reputation, and for a public figure, this may be dangerous”.

“Public figures must remember that their audiences follow different persuasions, and some may take offence once they know that their idol supports a party they do not like.”

City Press spotted sassy Isibaya actress Jessica Nkosi wearing an ANC doek. Some celebrities seemed ill at ease as invited guests, while others saw nothing wrong with publicly endorsing their favoured party.

Nkosi told City Press that she attended the ANC function to work, and was open about her ANC membership.

“But, most importantly, I want to send a message to young people that it is important for them to vote, because their vote counts. As the youth, we need to be involved and aware of what’s happening in our country,” she said.

Asked whether she would consider accepting invitations from opposition parties, she said: “Work is work.”

Legendary singer Blondie Makhene was proud to go public about being an ANC member.

“We have to show where we stand. I stand with the ANC. I promote it because they promote me and my wellbeing. We have 90% [local airplay] today on radio because of the ANC. Why should I not celebrate them and help them grow?”

Former bubblegum music star Mercy Pakela echoed this sentiment. “The ANC brought freedom for us and I will vote for the party. We are out of the apartheid system because of the ANC.”

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