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Telkom CEO hangs up on empowerment

Jul 07 2017 06:00
Tshwane Malope

Dear Sipho Maseko,

Let me begin by congratulating you, sir, on Telkom having recently declared an increase in earnings and revenue for 2017. In these rather gloomy economic times in our country, it is always refreshing to learn of some business growth.

This is another case of black excellence at its best and a big feather in the cap of the country’s transformation agenda.

But, sir, I’m a bit conflicted.

I learnt recently that your company had invited advertising agencies to bid for a piece of business at your behest.

So, being the eternal optimist that I am, as a young South African today, I waited with bated breath to hear who of the myriad talented South African advertising agencies would win the account. Telkom is, after all, a South African entity with 40% government shareholding, so, naturally, one expects it to be among the forerunners of the country’s transformation and economic agenda.

However, to my dismay and absolute confusion, I am told that the account was awarded to WPP’s Wunderman, a multinational agency based in the US, part of Rubicam.

The two other agencies that got work were Demographica and Retail Insight. However, they only got a small part of the bigger contract.

Now, sir, as a professional myself, I can appreciate the need to pick the best agency. I advocate for excellence myself. After all, we have enough underperforming parastatals as it is, so really, we need the best people for every job. I am also sure that your preferred candidate passed a litany of requirements that will bring the best outcome to your flourishing business. However, from where I am sitting, this is a spit in the face of South Africa and a gross violation of our economic transformation ambitions.

How does a company that is 40% owned by the people of South Africa explain its continued stance to sideline South African suppliers for overseas companies? For before appointing Wunderman, your company was working with another multinational, DDB, and is now back to WPP.

Is Telkom so averse to real transformation or are our local advertising agencies just hopelessly pathetic?

You know, sir, during the times of Sizwe Nxasana, Papi Moletsane and most recently Pinky Moholi, Telkom worked a lot with black agencies. This is the time when the entity came up with some of its most exciting campaigns, such as “Homecoming” and the immortal “Molo Mhlobam” to name just two. For its troubles, the company became one of South Africa’s most loved brands, according to the Sunday Times-Markinor Top Brands Survey.

But now, the return of these multinational agencies, in your tenure, almost feels like a reversal (especially for the South African advertising industry, which remains one of the most untransformed).

I bet the South African public resonates less with you partnering with Usain Bolt, on your “Boltspeed” campaign than they would if you had worked with the fastest in the world today, our very own Wayde van Niekerk. Anaso Jobodwana, an Olympic bronze medallist, says your insistence to use Usain Bolt just sends a message that local athletes are not good enough. This despite Van Niekerk being the first athlete to break 10 seconds for the 100m, 20 seconds for the 200m, 31 seconds for the 300m and 44 seconds for the 400m. Van Niekerk is now being hailed as the next Bolt – in effect making Bolt a yesterday man, in our eyes.

So, when your tenure ends – for it will end, rest assured – yours will be the legacy of a black South African who reversed the gains of transformation.

Mnumzane, as black people, each time one of our own gets appointed to a position of power, we are filled with a sense of renewed hope.

We somehow believe that the same transformation agenda that catapults you to a big position is the same agenda that will cause you to carry more than just a business interest, but remind you of the transformation obligation you carry, as a black South African in 2017.

For we are up against a well-entrenched system that was deliberately designed to exclude the masses, as you know, and now that you are up there, Joni, please do not sell out. Do not perpetuate black exclusion.

Now, is there a case for efficiency versus transformation? I hope that matter does not even arise because efficiency in an untransformed economy equates to gross inefficiency.

So, sir, frankly, I am disappointed that Telkom did not appoint a South African agency.

Profits are not profits when they are representing a minute portion of the population.

I hope we can open this discussion further.

Yours sincerely

Tshwane Malope

Malope is an independent communications and public relations specialist as well as a member of the ANC’s professionals and academics task team in Gauteng

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telkom  |  public relations  |  empowerment
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