PR101:Managing a race crisis in South Africa

There’s a furore in South Africa at the moment over the playing of a CD containing racist lyrics about Nelson Mandela.

According to police, who arrested a company CEO, it was played at the staff party of Sun International. The lyrics, adapated from South Africa’s national anthem called Mandela the “k” word, considered one of the most offensive expressions in this country.

It played for around 15 seconds and was whipped out of the CD player and the CEO of the security company contracted to the resort, whose stand the music came from, was arrested. He was charged with crimen injuria, although he said he had nothing to do with the matter. Another employee of the company was subsequently suspended and yet another, who the company said put the CD on a table to be played, was fired.

In the aftermath, the security company issued press statements saying it was upset by the incident, did not tolerate racism, apologised to Mandela and promised to co-operate with police.

In South Africa, incidents like this pop up from time to time and they cause outrage.

And, companies or people associated with the incident have to do a lot of explaining and self searching and firing. So, while the security company’s publicity machine dealt with the matter, the resort, who hosted the staff party, feel astounded that they are associated with it.

Telephonic queries and emails for response or reaction to the criticism are met with a sense of exasperation and a feeling that it has nothing to do with the resort and the security company is a separate entity, so they are deciding what sort of statement to issue. I’m being polite about the actual words of one brittle staffer at the consultancy.

Of course, the company is separate, but the resort’s name is linked to the event. So, this is what I would do if I was the PR company handling the matter:

– issue a statement expressing shock, horror, outrage, promising that seven kinds of hell will befall any contractor or their employees for that kind of behaviour.

– promise to send employees to transformation awareness classes

– suspend the security contract while the matter is dealt with

– Offer counselling to staffers who may be upset by what they heard and need assurance that this is not acceptable to the company

– Send stern letter to individual staffers, regardless of whether they work for contractors or concessionaires, reminding them of what is and is not acceptable on the company premises.

And to the man who made and put the CD on to the table to be played – get therapy, you are so screwed up.


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