Bell Pot­tinger sussed us out

CityPress - - Voices - Dudu Msomi voices@ city­press. co. za Msomi is chief ex­ec­u­tive of Busara Lead­er­ship Part­ners

To mas­ter per­sua­sion and ma­nip­u­la­tion, you re­quire in­sights on what drives hu­man emo­tions and be­hav­iours. Be­havioural psy­chol­ogy is the study of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween minds and be­hav­iour. The “sci­ence” tries to un­der­stand why we be­have the way we do, to as­sess how trig­gers re­sult in spe­cific re­sponses, and looks at the pat­terns (habits) in our be­hav­iours. The in­ten­tion is to pre­dict how peo­ple will re­spond when ex­posed to stim­uli in or­der to in­flu­ence and per­suade them to act in par­tic­u­lar ways. In un­der­stand­ing how cer­tain in­cite­ments shape our ac­tions, one can guess the emo­tions that are likely to be elicited when par­tic­u­lar as­so­ci­a­tions are made, sub­con­sciously or con­sciously. Dis­ci­plines such as ad­ver­tis­ing, sales and politics use some of these in­sights. Un­der­stand­ing the trig­gers and hu­man dy­nam­ics is cru­cial to se­lect­ing the cor­rect stim­uli be­cause what works in South Africa is dif­fer­ent from what works in Nige­ria.

When I first heard the phrases “white monopoly cap­i­tal­ists” and “rad­i­cal so­cial eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion” I could see the in­fu­sion of be­haviourism in de­vel­op­ing this strat­egy and what it hoped to achieve even be­fore the orig­i­na­tors were pub­licly known. In a coun­try with a racist past and one that is still covertly so even in the new po­lit­i­cal dis­pen­sa­tion, where priv­i­lege and wealth are still racially skewed to­wards white peo­ple and un­em­ploy­ment ridicu­lously high, it is not rocket sci­ence that such a nar­ra­tive would find pos­i­tive ground and be pas­sion­ately adopted be­cause it is rooted in truth. Bell Pot­tinger sussed out South Africans. The de­lib­er­ate use of race (“white”) and “rad­i­cal” has the po­ten­tial to elicit vis­ceral emo­tional re­sponses in peo­ple. It car­ries the seeds of clas­si­cal bi­nary fram­ing of is­sues per­fected by Ron­ald Rea­gan: you are ei­ther for Ja­cob Zuma or against trans­for­ma­tion and black peo­ple. The PR com­pany hedged its bets that the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion would sus­pend crit­i­cal think­ing about any ul­te­rior mo­tives be­cause they would be blinded by their feel­ings. Emo­tions are a pow­er­ful force on hu­man be­hav­iour. The gam­ble was that trade unions and the SACP would find this nar­ra­tive in line with their cause, a rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion by Bell Pot­tinger.

In a dif­fer­ent time, pre-2007, the in­tro­duc­tion of these phrases into our lex­i­con would not have re­ceived much scep­ti­cism be­cause of the dire eco­nomic cir­cum­stances. But would those lead­ers have stooped to this level? In this strat­egy, the clever blacks who dare to ques­tion are au­to­mat­i­cally con­signed to be­ing the brainwashed de­fend­ing their own re­cent gains. This plan paves a path to­wards the De­cem­ber 2017 ANC elec­tive con­fer­ence where any pres­i­den­tial can­di­date that has strong as­so­ci­a­tions with white cap­i­tal­ists, such as Cyril Ramaphosa, will be “dis­qual­i­fied” au­to­mat­i­cally in the minds of the vot­ing branch mem­bers be­cause his vic­tory will equate to con­tin­u­ing the status quo which would never al­low rad­i­cal so­cioe­co­nomic trans­for­ma­tion. Marikana will be re­mem­bered. Any up­roar about touch­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion, Trea­sury, the SA Re­serve Bank or mak­ing ex­pen­sive de­ci­sions such as pri­ori­tis­ing nu­clear en­ergy now rather than later when the coun­try’s purses can af­ford it, is associated with pro­tect­ing “white” power and monopoly cap­i­tal­ism. The sav­ing grace is that the pre­dic­tion by Bell Pot­tinger did not fac­tor in the im­por­tance of the cred­i­bil­ity and the trust­wor­thi­ness of the lead­er­ship in an al­ready emo­tion­ally charged and dis­trust­ful en­vi­ron­ment. And if they did, they cal­cu­lated that ker­nels of doubt would be en­trenched in the minds to po­ten­tially tip the bal­ance pos­i­tively to­wards any other can­di­date that is not Ramaphosa, one that is sus­cep­ti­ble to per­pet­u­at­ing the state cap­ture plan be­ing rolled out.

Emo­tions are the cur­rency of the Vuca (volatile, un­cer­tain, com­plex and ambiguous) world. If you can ma­nip­u­late them, you can in­flu­ence hu­man be­hav­iour. We are our own worst en­emy. Our emo­tions can be used against us. Soft skills have never been harder and more cru­cial to ac­quire. Our sur­vival hinges on crit­i­cal think­ing, rea­son­ing, learn­ing and un­learn­ing skills to be able to dis­cern what is fake and what is fact; what is re­al­is­tic and what is de­struc­tive to our econ­omy. We need to know and un­der­stand first-hand our Con­sti­tu­tion, the func­tions of gov­ern­ment de­part­ments and in­sti­tu­tions that pro­tect our in­ter­ests such as the Re­serve Bank and the Of­fice of the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor and not de­pend on other peo­ple’s in­ter­pre­ta­tions. Black (wo)man, you are truly on your own.

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