South African company Vodacom lent its support to the Springboks Rugby World Cup campaign this year with a TV advertisement using a concept known to many viewers through the comedy film The Gods Must Be Crazy. The ad was shown in June, before South Africa’s game against Samoa in Johannesburg. In the TV ad members of the Springbok squad, Breyten Paulse, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Schalk Burger, are flying over the Kalahari Desert when their rugby ball falls out the window. Down below a Khoisi bushman is hit by the ball. He and his companion take the ball home to their village where their families and friends welcome the opportunity for a good game of rugby. The try is converted after sand is taken onto the field with a sand truck. The tagline: “Bringing Springbok Rugby To All Corners of South Africa”.
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Richard Huber, the national secretary-general of the ARCM (African Renaissance Civic Movement) has written to Vodacom, SABC and SARFU outlining objections to the TV advert. He wrote, “It degrades our Khoisan as illiterate, throwing away their own natural food and resources in exchange for a rugby ball.”
Vodacom SA CEO Romeo Khumalo said that great care was taken in creating the Vodacom rugby world cup advert. “Every care was taken to work very sensitively and responsibly from conceptualisation to implementation.” He said Vodacom’s intention was never to belittle or offend any community. The campaign was produced specifically for the build-up to the Rugby World Cup and would not be shown on air again after the weekend. However he said: “In fact the commercial has proved to be highly popular among many South Africans.” It was “obvious” the villagers in the advert knew about rugby and were “passionate players and supporters of the game”. “It’s music and cinema that only a South African would identify with, and it fits the ’man in the seat’ and Vodacom perfectly,” Khumalo said.
Andre Steenkamp, president of the South African San Association, said that there was not a big problem. “We were consulted and we agreed. The whole thing’s been pulled out of context. We don’t want and we don’t need people to speak on our behalf to tell others what we think or would like, we’re perfectly capable of doing it for ourselves.”
Steenkamp does point out that the actor (Dawid Kruiper) dropping the ostrich egg was inappropriate. “The ostrich egg is how we carry water, our most precious resource and there’s Kruiper throwing the egg away – it’s totally wrong.”
Draft FCB creative director Gerhard Myburgh said the advert loosely followed the plot of one of the original South African comedies, Jamie Uys’s The Gods Must Be Crazy and features, in various musical guises, the classic Afrikaans folk tune, Ver in die ou Kalahari. Myburgh said: “We felt the time was right for an ad that spoke to the whole of SA, to highlight that everyone is able to watch the Springboks in action.”
While apologetic, Myburgh says the film crew did everything in its power to observe cultural sensitivities. “For me it was not about the San, but about rugby. The brief was about Vodacom being the rugby broadcaster and responsible for bringing rugby to every single part of the country. So we asked ourselves, what’s the most remote part of the Kalahari? The answer was the Kalahari. From there the spoof take on The Gods must be Crazy just fell into place.”
“I take the complaint about the egg, but that wasn’t what we were inferring. We were hypersensitive about stepping on toes, we had advisers, we consulted widely. The point is the guy (in the ad) had limited space, he either had to leave the ball or leave the egg and the ball’s the better option.”