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Campbell advises South Africa's spin doctors

Andrew Harding | 10:28 UK time, Tuesday, 29 March 2011

South Africa's notoriously thin-skinned government spin doctors are being given a little coaching by the Gordon Ramsey of the trade - Tony Blair's former press secretary, Alastair Campbell.

Alastair Campbell

Alastair Campbell had a troubled relationship with some of the British media

His advice - get used to it, and "be a bit more chilled."

"Stay calm in a crisis," he urged his South African colleagues, at a formal dinner on Monday night.

"When you've been called Hitler or Goebbels or Rasputin, there's no question capable of upsetting me."

As for the robust media criticism constantly directed at the government and the ruling ANC, "I don't think you have it as bad as you think you have it," he said.

"The disconnect that matters is not the one that exists between what the government does and what the media says," Mr Campbell wrote later on his blog.

"It's the one between what the media says and what people actually think about their lives."

True enough - but the real and widening disconnect here seems to be between the government and the people. The ANC may keep winning - but watch the turnout for May's local elections.

Interestingly, Mr Campbell waded - as perhaps only an outsider can - into a delicate subject that the authorities here seem barely able to even mention, let alone plan for properly: The handling of Nelson Mandela's eventual funeral arrangements.

"It will be a huge moment for the country and the world," Mr Campbell stressed, urging the government's communication officials to see the event on a par with last year's World Cup - and as an opportunity to showcase the country and its extraordinary history.

His advice seemed to go down well at the dinner.

Will - or should - any of it rub off on the government spokesman, Jimmy Manyi?

He's a man who, much like Mr Campbell towards the end of his days at Number 10, has a habit of being, rather than making, the headlines.


  • Comment number 1.

    Boy he is going to bring his 'labour' mentality to the mix. Brace yourselves

  • Comment number 2.

    News Media without any insight || COMPLETELY WRONG...

    "The New Forces, loyal to Ouattara, seem confident - overly, no doubt - that a blitzkrieg will sweep Gbagbo's loyalists out of power after just a few days of fighting."

    - The BBC's Andrew Harding, March 14, 2011

    COMMENT: Easy not to have insight when you don't take the time to learn basic facts... such as the fact that 68% of the army voted for Ouattara.

  • Comment number 3.

    Zimbabwe has just passed the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, which requires all foreign firms valued at more than $500000 to sell 51% stakes to locals. The act is expanded to include all mining companies valued at more than $1.

    While SA is still cowardly and doubtful on the nationalisation of its mines and monopoly industries, a country just next door is changing the long-term future of blacks and the poor for the better in terms of power, ownership and wealth relations.

    Zimbabwe took land away from foreigners 10 years ago amid some fanfare and gave it to its rightful owners. Now it is giving ownership of the industries and mines. Unlike our poor black people, the Zimbabweans (although without our temporary, artificial luxuries which come with nothing but greed and corruption), will be the first people in Africa to genuinely benefit from our Freedom Charter — genuinely and truly.

    But what I like most about this move is that it will explode a myth — every time an African country wants to change the lives of blacks through the transfer of wealth and benefits to the majority of poor blacks, they are scared and threatened by the international media that doing so will chase away foreign direct investment.

    Although this may surprise many, some of the major foreign companies operating in Zimbabwe include British Petroleum, Total, Chevron, Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered and platinum giant Zimplats, Lonhro, Anglo American, Rio Tinto, Sanlam and Old Mutual . And I can bet that none of them will be scared and leave the country but will comply — because business cares little about inconvenience as long it continues to make money.

    It may sound farfetched now but in the coming 50 years or so, Zimbabwean African people will be the most powerful, wealthy and prosperous because they are reversing the frontiers of poverty and hopelessness created by the colonisers over 100 years ago.

    It is important that SA rises from its slumber and starts to truly transform the wealth, ownership and power relations in this country.

    It cannot be correct that only 4% of land has been transferred to black people, while 22-million of the black majority are in dire poverty with no idea what their next meal will be, blacks only account for 1,5% of the country’s wealth, and the education and health system still favour the minority. The list is endless. At the pace we are moving, coupled with our attitude, I doubt we will ever reach the promise of a democratic, nonracist, nonsexist prosperous SA for all.

  • Comment number 4.

    kemetalkebulan, you are very optimistic, BEE in SA has created many black billioinairs but has not spread the wealth down stream. All of the ruling elite in Zimbabwe are multi millionairs and not one does anything to help his fellow man, this seems always to fall to the NGO's from Europe and America. Nationalising the mines is only another part of ZANU Co. to steal the wealth of Zimababwe for the elite few. 50 years from now Zimbabwe will still be the basket case it is today.

  • Comment number 5.

    Not sure if the UK faces quite the same amount of media mis-reporting as happens in South Africa though. There were at least a couple of major retractions by newspapers in SA over the last week about Julius Malema's allegedly anti-Zuma statements with respect to the Libya crisis. Still, with the racially controversial comments from the likes of Jimmy Manyi recently, one would think the government spokesperson himself should consider getting a personal spin doctor for his own statements!

  • Comment number 6.

    ““It will be a huge moment for the country and the world," Mr Campbell stressed, urging the government's communication officials to see the event on a par with last year's World Cup - and as and opportunity to showcase the country and its extraordinary history." - If indeed Mr Campbell did urge South African Government officials to see the eventual passing of Mr Mandela as a marketing opportunity, then I believe that would be a show of incredibly poor taste. This is the exact sort of thing the South African Government and people would hope to avoid. Foreign media have a tendency to rampage around at events in Africa without showing any sensitivity to local people or customs. Further these kind of patronising statements made by foreigners about what Africa should do are not very welcome. It should be obvious by now that the European view is not a global phenomenon. I can only think that Mr Campbell did not make any such urging and that some Journalistic licence has been used here.


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