Contemplating, the way one does when stuck in a situation that doesn’t allow for the normal fiddle and fidget with social network by cell phone, nor twitter, and facebook, nor shouting into the phone deafening the person next to you because you haven’t yet grasped the fact that modern technology allows for your voice to be heard through your handset even at a whisper, the subject of the Spokesperson popped up in my mind. The spokesperson seems to be the accessory du jour for anyone aspiring to be anyone in this newly evolving, rather unique South Africa that we are still becoming. Corporations have them, political parties have them, and latterly individuals are getting them. Why?
Who needs a spokesperson, really? I understand it to be another word for a public relations person. Someone who puts the position of the corporation into neat sound bites, or lengthy opinion papers so that the public at large know what the corporation is all about. Or so that things can be expressed in non-hysterical ways that are easily palatable to the public at large. It’s all about communication with the public at large. Isn’t that it?
It stands to reason. A corporation can’t have everyone and anyone running around willy-nilly giving opinions on what the company position might be. We don’t care what the junior HR navvy would do if they had the decision making power. A corporation must have one voice speaking with one position and that position is decided by many in meetings and conference calls and it all comes out very neatly when expressed to us the public and we are happy and they are happy and happiness abounds. It’s all very kumbuya.
Political parties, similarly, need spokespeople, desperately. So that when the President says ‘tell the press to f-off’, for example. I know this is something that our president especially would never say, not in a million years. I’m just making an example. When the President says that, the spokesperson will stand before the assembled press and tell them that ‘the president wishes them the very best in all their future fornications and is unfortunately unable to attend to them at this time due to pressing matters of state’. Much more palatable. Congratulations and thank you Mr or Ms Spokesperson.
So it is understood, is it not, that I do get what a spokesperson is for. I’m not mad. But then why does a person need a spokesperson? I know you’re wondering ‘what person has a spokesperson’? Don’t make me name names. They know who they are.
Are we a society so lacking basic charm that we need people to interpret us so that we don’t offend? I mean if you ask a Common-Joe Moholi what is your position on the arms deal, for example, does Common-Joe Moholi need to go to his ‘spokesperson’ to articulate his position, or can he simply open the mouth that God saw fit to affix to his face and speak? Would the utterings of Common-Joe Moholi cause a national gasp, and if cause a gasp they would, should we be spared this gasp-worthy commentary? Let The Common-Joe Maholies speak I say. In fact make them speak for themselves.
Phanzi spokespersons Phanzi. Or, actually, not Phanzi exactly because if you are a busy person in the public eye doing, doing and doing more then perhaps you don’t have the time to think about what you say because you’re too busy doing what you do. You might forget how well bred you are when people come along with the kind of questions that make you want to smack them and send them back to school. Stupid questions. Obvious questions. Questions that they can find the answer to by just picking up a document or Googling.
I’m starting to contemplate a spokesperson for my self. That’s how deluded I’ve become. Delusions of grandeur, right here. There was a ‘red carpet’ for some movie and a journo stopped me on the carpet and asked me “Why are you here tonight”? I thought it must be a trick question.
And even after all these years I just can’t come up with the sound bite when I’m confronted with a journalist asking me “What’s it like….”. I was asked that just months ago and I shuddered. Luckily I’d been sent the questions via email, so the journo wasn’t privy to the expletive response. My heart sank. I thought. “No, I can’t”. I didn’t read on through the other questions. I was asking myself why this person was asking me these non-question questions. What does he want to know?
I hate the question “What’s it like being Oliver Tambo’s daughter”. I could use a spokesperson with the patience to answer that. I think it’s not even a question. I think the asker of the question has no imagination and wants me to do their job for them. Besides, I don’t know the answer in fewer than 1000 words. And the other one that I hate is “What was it like growing up in England”. Seriously? What aspect of growing up in England? No fewer than 3000 words because it’s not my job to break down the question. Break it down for me. What do you want to know? In fact, don’t bother. Just end the interview. It’s too uninteresting. I can’t. I don’t have to. You can’t make me.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my Daddy. I love being Oliver Tambo’s daughter. What a Daddy to be proud of. But ‘what’s it like’? What are you asking? Is there a real and specific question in there? Answer: “It’s great”. See two of us can play that game. Ask me a question I can answer or speak to my Spokesperson.
What is the result? Journalists will think I’m arrogant. I’m not. I’m just bored. I mean what boring questions. And most of the time I don’t even know why I ‘m being asked them. They want to interview me? Why? I’ve done nothing earth shattering in more than 12 months. Jeez, it’s been longer than more than 12 months. I’m in danger of becoming an oxygen thief.
Being Oliver Tambo’s daughter isn’t an achievement. It’s a gift. I don’t think it alone should earn me the time of any self- respecting journalist when there is real pressing stuff to write about; and important, relevant people to talk to. I need to do my next big thing. It’s coming. I’m working on it. It will be worth their time, I promise.
When my next big thing comes I hope they will interview me about it. I hope they won’t ask me “What’s it like……”. I’m not grand, yet. So I won’t need a spokesperson just yet. I shall speak for myself.