Bheki Mashile's Letter from Umjindi

Rebranding Mpumalanga. Analyse the stench

Watching television news and reading the Sunday newspapers has become a distressing pastime of late. On top of that we are once again bombarded with news about our own Idi Amin Dada wannabe and his crew of beret-wearing cub scouts, the EFF, or Economic Freedom Farts. Yes, he’s got a good few of his beret-bedecked boys running around our picturesque dorp of Barberton too. How annoying.

Then of course there are the small mining houses that were reported to have “fairly and quickly” come to an agreement with striking workers – a widely welcomed development. This writer was pleased to hear that one of those small mining houses was Pan African Resources, which owns Barberton Mines Pty. It’s a Cyril Ramaphosa entity. (Remember him, the mining mogul who reportedly insisted that the Marikana protest should be put down?). He and his crew have three mines situated in B-Town – Sheba Mine, New Consort and Fairview – so suffice it to say there are quite a few workers who claim they are being shafted by toiling in these gold-laden tunnels.

Certainly they have not exactly had it easy. Just like their counterparts on bigger mines, they have faced the same problems with Num and Amcu waging a battle for their membership. And most have gone with Amcu. But recently they told both unions to piss off and took to the picket lines to fight for their “promised” profit-sharing dividends. Well, that strike was quashed and as – many of them reported – they were warned that “any one heard talking of the profit-sharing issue risks suspension”.

This is nothing new, workers have relayed stories of similar intimidation tactics to my Umjindi Guardian on many occasions over the years:  “If you are seen as a trouble-maker you will be suspended”. So perhaps Pan African’s “quick agreement” over the wage issue has been a blessing in disguise for these “profit-share-denied” workers.

If history is anything to go by, it could have been worse, with intensified intimidation, as reported in the past. Then, mine management was accused of being in cahoots with the Num leadership who held sway through the mine’s recognition of Num as the union that represented most workers. Times have changed. Now, with or without Num or Amcu, the mine workers in this small town are determined to stand up for themselves – as the profit-share protest proved. And it’s an issue that is not going away anytime soon. “Intimidation” or not, miners want their share of the spoils. This scribe is looking into whether the local mines are living up to their Social and Labour Plan obligations, as the government has said they must do by 2014.

Who's who:  Idi Amin Juju and
Julius Malema Dada (or something like that)

Another story that had this news hound muttering “Oh s***, here we go again”, is that some piss-ass advertising or public-relations agency is about to make millions from Mpumalanga. Or more likely, is about to share millions with some Mpumalanga officials. In the September 1 edition of City Press I was arrested by a headline “Brand Mpumalanga gets a makeover”. In short, the Mpumalanga government is changing its slogan from “A Pioneering Spirit” to the more appropriate “The Place of the Rising Sun”. And this will be done over a three-year period.

Three years? They’ve got to be kidding. But hey, why limit themselves to milking the province’s coffers with a short-term efficient PR/advertising campaign when you can drag it out, popping out the moola and getting kickbacks.

Kudos to the agency that gets the brainless job of designing T-shirts, posters, placards and other money-wasting goodies in the name of re-branding Mpumalanga. My guess is they will probably charge a king’s ransom just for coming up with the logo, which of course will be… a rising sun or sunset.  

The article quoted the provincial spokesperson Nonkululeko Mbatha as saying, “the repositioning of brand Mpumalanga will provide an opportunity to market it as a business and tourism destination of choice”.

Well, first, Mpumalanga does not really have a problem as a choice business destination. Mbatha needs only look at business investments that have come into rural areas such as Elukwatini.

Second, if Ms Mbatha and the officials she works for want to promote Mpumalanga as a tourist destination, they should rather clean up and strengthen the troubled Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency and devise a strategy to help the municipality develop their tourist-generating capabilities. Case in point: Umjindi Barberton’s tourism office does not even have brochures any more and must beg Mayor Lazarus Mashaba for funds just to pay the salaries of its small staff contingent, let alone promote the town known as “Jewel of the Lowveld”.

Mpumalanga has a brilliant team of art and graphic designers situated in the basement of the legislature building. Do the rebranding in-house. Use local companies to print the stupid T-shirts and all the other rubbish, and instead put the millions to good use in the provincial and municipal tourist campaigns.

Bob Marley once sang in Buffalo Soldier, “When I analyse the stench…” Rest assured, we will be analysing this rebranding. After all, the old “Pioneering Spirit” logo stank to high heaven after it turned out that the work was given to a Joburg agency in return for kickbacks for Mpumalanga officials.

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