A few institutions and individuals contributed to the "How NOT To Do PR" manual in 2017, to varying degrees of failure. Some, though, have acquitted themselves well as a shining example of how to navigate the world of public relations.
[Key: A – You are shining Star / F – You should be fired]
The Department of Social Development
Score: F- for total failure
With foul-mouthed spokesperson Lumka Oliphant insulting the whole world on social media, this was the worst representation of the government over the past decade.
Bathabile Dlamini's dismissive, foul-mouthed approach –– both as the ANC women's league president and as minister of social development –– did not help matters, and gave the ANC the worst PR there can possibly be -- publicity touching on the lives of its most vulnerable constituency.
The minister's assertion that all ANC leaders are corrupt (hence they all have smallanyana skeletons) was quoted in so many debates to discredit the ruling party, that it was no longer funny.
The Presidency [incorporating Brand SA and GCIS]
Score: F- for total failure
The failure to timeously and strategically release the "Fees Must Fall" report with an action plan that leans towards the working class was a PR disaster and a missed opportunity by the president, especially in a year full of such terrible publicity for him.
The reshuffling of cabinet twice this year, plunging the country into junk status, is possibly the worst and most damaging public relations disaster ever seen by any presidency over the past 23 years.
The last-minute announcement of free education –– apparently without the knowledge of treasury –– made a bad situation worse...
Multiple court cases and appeals that were abandoned at the door of the court, inexplicable legal concessions and a confirmation of terrible legal advice are the worst PR crises any president has given the country and the ANC.
There is no need to ventilate Zuma's reputational destruction in any detail. Any subject matter he has touched with any seriousness this year ended in a total PR fiasco.
The state capture email leaks confirming that several of his ministers and himself are captured by the Guptas is the kind of PR failure that leaves any PR professional hired to solve it in total paralysis. You can't spin this.
Tagging along in this mess was the GCIS –– which still boasts an acting CEO after five years since Jimmy Manyi was let go –– as well as Brand SA ,that operates so far like a secret organisation with a wait-and -ee attitude to managing the brand that is South Africa. Both these organisations are part of the failure to project the country in a positive light.
But you can't sell rotten apples at a vegetable store that has other fresh fruit.
Score: D- for a PR disaster while trying
Poor Zizi Kodwa -- being handed ingredients for couscous yet being expected to produce Venda pap (no pun intended). The president's reshuffles being disowned by three of the top six officials was a messy affair, as impossible to explain as the NeneGate scandal.
The ANC had to answer to scandals about deployees and the veterans' scathing attacks with facts from within.
In the midst of painting a picture of an ANC that is doing something to self-correct, he could not explain the leaked minutes of the NWC showing utter contempt for the public and an ANC that is hard of hearing. His response was a woefully inadequate "don't use this information for reporting" -- the ANC os destroying the man's reputational management career.
But you can't sell rotten apples at a vegetable store that has other fresh fruit. There seems to be scant communications strategy at Luthuli House, with multiple voices taking turns to misrepresent the ANC in the worst possible way.
Oakbay Investments; a.k.a. The Guptas
Score: F- for total failure to launch a campaign
In an attempt to curry favour with the South African public and spin propaganda, the Oakbay companies hired a now-disgraced PR firm from the UK and gave it the mandate to fool South Africa.
So bad was this move, that the PR firm has been disbarred from professional associations, and the cooked-up narrative of "white monopoly capital" has been exposed as a bunch of lies to detract from state capture.
Oakbay then pretended to sell assets in order to get out of the public eye. The gimmick had only a few fooled, and instead more scandals are emerging in its wake –– with even more propaganda being exposed when the leaked emails came to the fore.
Score: E+ for evasiveness
Many South Africans adore Multichoice; pay TV introduced revolutionary consumption of television. But 2017 saw it being entangled with allegations of underhanded lobbying.
However, it is not the allegations that are an issue, but rather the PR behind their reply that is bothersome.
Refusal to grant proper and thorough interviews to the press if you are a media organisation is probably more unforgivable -- it's worse if the allegation has to do with high-level bribery aimed at dislodging millions of South Africans from access to the airwaves and protecting monopolistic practices.
This is a shameful episode in the history of Multichoice.
As if this is not enough, an inexplicable financial transaction with the Gupta-owned TV channel emerges, while the scandalous contract related to the SABC archives still remains unexplained.
This must be the worst PR nightmare this company has ever faced, and its answer, according to a source close to the situation, is: "Hulle will nie praat nie."
The Democratic Alliance
Score: D– for dull PR duped by Zille
The DA has had a bad PR year,with allegations of spinelessness by its leaders over Helen Zille's so-called disciplinary action. Instead of acting with the necessary speed, they contradicted their leader of the federal executive and dragged out the process of sorting Zille out for too long.
When they eventually did, they could not explain why she was good enough for the province, but not good enough to remain a DA leader.
This is bad PR for a party that usually gets its PR right. Nothing explains the arrogance of Zille, or her embarrassing the new leader in that fashion and giving the DA a bad name.
The only saving grace was probably the mayors of Tshwane, Midvaal and Johannesburg –– in the news for the right reasons, as they settled the DA into power in these municipalities.
The Troliip spat with the UDM and his defiance of the national structure set up to resolve coalition conflicts sent a bad signal about the much-anticipated coalition politics ahead of the 2019 elections.
This also comes on the back of the motion of no confidence pursued unilaterally by the DA and an ill-advised motion to dissolve the national assembly flying in the face of a common effort to unseat the ANC.
It was indeed a dull PR year for the DA –– one of their black leaders wrote an opinion piece asking where on earth the whites of the DA are during DA-led protest marches. This prompted the federal executive to hurriedly adopt an "opinion-piece policy" -- a clear case of thought policing totally at variance with the DA's liberal traditions.
Score: F for Ford and failure to be compassionate
The private sector with access to resources –– both legal and PR –– has never stuffed up as badly as Ford did this year. In the face of a dead customer, they are yet to settle with the affected family –– early this month, another anniversary of his death came and went.
In the worst possible attempt at obfuscation, they used a mediation with a church leader to try to force the family into a bogus settlement, in which they offered them yet another Ford as compensation for the loss of their loved one in a burning Ford.
Ford is now the butt of jokes –– although in fact, the situation is not funny.
Ford owners are trying to sell their cars before they burn in them. The reputational damage is immeasurable, yet Ford forges on -- and remains the sponsor of "Idols" amongst other "business as usual" antics.
Its reputation is now up in flames; excuse the pun. "Idols" should be disassociating itself from a brand like this that lacks compassion.
The state of capture inquiry reveals the kind of cloaks and daggers that are used to run the country.
Score: G- for Guptarised governance
Eskom is a good company with some hardworking people waking up every day to keep the lights on, but gosh, it reputation is now absolutely rotten. It is highly ironic that it has shed light on the extent of the state capture enterprise that is carrying on under cover of darkness.
It has shed light more clearly than even SAA that the president is at the heart of state capture -- not by delegation, but by poking his nose into the illegal and unjust firing of decent Eskom executives who would not form part of his thieving agenda. This is the worst PR disaster to befall Eskom sonce it ended last year in Brian Molefe's crocodile tears.
The Molefe saga only serves to make a bad year worse, with no one being able to explain whether Brian was retired early, resigned to clear his name, or absconded from work while he took up a post as a member of parliament. Or whether in fact he has earned the salary of an SANDF colonel while in the employ of another parastatal on a salary of millions.
None of these things makes Eskom's reputation the power it claims to generate within itself...
The state of capture inquiry reveals the kind of cloak-and-dagger schemes that are used to run the country. The scandal script cannot be ventilated enough, with facts emerging every day that its rot originates in the highest office in the land.
The Department of Health in Gauteng
Score: F for fatal flaws
The LIfe Esidimeni scandal must top all governance failures, let alone a bad PR image for government in general and the ANC in Gauteng particularly.
A tragedy of this nature, in which 140 people died under the care of government ,is unforgivable. But what is worse is the destruction of public trust in government, the failure of politicians to take accountability, and the blame game surrounding the whole saga.
This is the disastrous reputation destroyer of the decade.
As if that is not enough, dead bodies were strewn across the highway in yet another demonstration of how things are falling apart. The strike that saw people being unable to bury loved ones on time only added salt to a festering wound. Its gonna be a huge mountain to climb, for this reputation to be mended.
Our education system, which is the biggest budget item is failing the society every day as our children are not being adequately prepared...
Department of Women and the ANC Woman's League
Score: G for grovelling to men and for disbelieving Khwezi
The department of women missed an opportunity to get Women's Month taken seriously.
Mduduzi Manana is still sitting side by side with Minister Shabangu as a fellow member of parliament, after the fellow beat up a woman -- an offence that was not new to him. Initially, it was the usual silence, which was then followed by the usual mumble about innocence until proven guilty.
When the court declared him a criminal delinquent and slapped him with a measly R100K -- no fine at all, considering his considerable earning power -- the department and the youth league did not protest at all.
This whole saga reinforces the view that this department is useless and is only good for ceremonial platitudes about women empowerment. This is the same department that failed Khwezi, when she had to live in hiding after accusing Zuma of rape. They clearly did not believe anything she said. Their reputation in this regard is irredeemably broken.
Department of Education
Score: F for failure at illiteracy and numeracy
The department of education's reputation is in tatters, largely owing to policy flip-flops on the status of different subject matters and matters of importance. As if the inexplicable lowering of the bar on the pass mark for matric was not enough. Now it is no longer necessary to enrol for maths if you intend to be an accountant. Can you believe it?!
But this was not the worst news to come out of this hapless corner led byAngie Motshekga-- apparently, our nine-year-olds can't read or write or comprehend much.
This only reinforces the suspicion that the system is cracking and our education system –– which is the biggest budget item –– is failing society every day, as our children are not being adequately prepared to take on the challenges of our country.
Strangely, this entire situation does not reflect on the professionals tasked with public relations. Like Zizi, they can't produce pap out of the sand.
Score: A+ for a pass with flying colours
The only saving grace in education is Gauteng's Panyaza Lesufi -- this is, however, despite his communications team, not because of it.
The MEC is an example of how politicians must communicate with their constituency, and he is hands-on when it comes to dealing with a crisis in the department. He shows up and seems genuinely concerned.
The disastrous discovery of child molestation at schools across the province, as well as constant racial outbreaks, have not diminished his sterling reputation as a go-getter and an MEC who seems to know what he is doing.
If it turns out that it was all smoke and mirrors, he's hidden that fact very well.
The only issue is that he needs to hire communicators who can emulate his media savvy. He should be in line to replace Angie Motshekga, whose public image is disastrous at best and at worst non-existent these days.
Score: A- for effortless communications: a fitting tribute to Joe Maila
Through a renewed campaign of PHILA, the energetic minister is back in our living rooms with messages of good health.
While on this good wicket, an outbreak has hit just last week, and the experts have reminded us that HIV/Aids is still an epidemic with some 2,000 new infections a week still recorded, increasing the horrific total of 7-million people living with the disease.
But he remains optimistic, always ensuring that he is available to have a dialogue with South Africans.
Motsoaledi had an excellent communicator in Bra Joe Maila, who passed away tragically this year. This A grade is dedicated to his gentle soul -- may it rest in peace.
Hopefully, Motsoaledi will appoint an equally capable cadre to pick up Maila's spear.
The only criticism is that communicating the work of the department seems not to be teamwork –– if you ever assess what the deputy and the DG ever have to say!
So the appointment of a spokesperson is a priority -- the message of health is too important to be a solo trumpet.