A Political Foefie*

The southernmost tip of Africa and where two oceans meet
The southernmost tip of Africa and where two oceans meet

Way back in 2002, CapeInfo identified the need for a photo opportunity at Cape Agullhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. Something that vistors would want to be photographed with and show off back home — like the backdrop of Table Mountain or the shark tank at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

We discussed the idea of a competition that would take into account the importance of this very special place. Most people don’t go there because it’s the southernmost tip (as they go to Land’s End or John O’Groats in the UK), but rather because it is where two oceans meet, and the only really accessible place in the world where this occurs.  But of course, that’s not something you can see.

It’s so easy to mess up and really few people have the first clue about what might be appropriate and what might contribute to a strong global brand.  After many discussions, what did come out was that, if one’s trying to build a global brand, it needs to be a global competition which the most creative and understanding people will participate in.  And to attract world class participants, one needs a world class judging panel with credibility.  And that’s not too difficult.

So, it was with some delight that we received the announcement about a competition for the southermost tip last week, issued by the Western Cape’s Ministry of Finance, Economic Development and Tourism.

Minister Alan Winde said: “Visitors to L’Agulhas claim to experience a heightened sense of awareness when they stand in silence at the point currently marked by a stone cairn at the tip of Africa. We want this sense of being to be represented by the iconic structure. The overall idea is that the icon links us with the people of our continent, as the space is ultimately shared and owned by us all.”

But the competition is an amateurish joke!  The brief includes statements like “It is an ICONIC IDEAS competition — it does not have to be a concept for an actual structure. If it is a structure the dimensions can’t be too large. Local materials would be a plus. Can’t be too reflective as it is a significant maritime area, no reflection at night. It is the Southernmost Tip of Africa, Mother Africa needs to be reflected.”

But two things despatched this initiative to the trash can.

It’s a “a continent-wide competition” and the competition calls “on all people of Africa”. But the PR company handling the launch said an entry had already been received from Spain and it won’t be excluded. So is it an international competition or a continent-wide competition?

The competition announcement goes on…

“The ‘Iconic Ideas’ competition, launched by DEDAT in partnership with SANParks, will run from the 26th of January until the 10th of March 2010. The competition will be calling on all people of Africa to create or design an iconic concept to celebrate the continent’s most southerly point. It should be a structure or symbol that can blend well with the surroundings at the Agulhas National Park, without causing damage to the environment. It should have continental significance, and be something that people can identify with. Mostly, it should encourage an environment where people can re-connect, spiritually or otherwise.

“We are searching for something unique and interesting that highlights the intense natural beauty, cultural and historical heritage, the ocean, maritime history and natural elements of the area. The DEDAT would like to showcase Africa’s real Southernmost Tip, to ensure that it fulfils its potential as a prime tourism destination.

“A panel of judges, comprising of people from various backgrounds with different expertise in their fields of operation, has been put together. It consists of local chieftains, urban designers, archaeologists, representatives from SANParks, marketing specialists, tourism experts and government representatives.”

So I wrote, asking for a list of the judges. I had a call back and the list was hurriedly read to me. The only name that stood out was Professor Fabio Todeschini, an architect and urban designer I have the highest respect for. So I wrote to him and he copied me his email to the Minister et al:

“I have just returned from the media launch of the competition and need to clearly put my point of view on this matter, as follows.

“I repeat that I seriously question the need for a new icon at L’Agulhas. As I said at our meeting last year, the existing lighthouse is iconic and, as far as I know, is the oldest surviving lighthouse on the African continent (the designer modeled it on the oldest: that of Alexandria, that has not survived). Moreover, the ‘Needles’ and their environment are collectively distinctive and iconic. What is not iconic is the visitor experience, mainly because of the arrival at the spot via the ugly suburban environment of the small town of Agulhas. That is the problem that should be dealt with appropriately.”

I quizzed the PR company again on Todeschini’s views and received the following reply: “Yes, I do understand Prof Todeschini’s view and I do personally agree with he’s (sic) point — which is why an idea like Land Art, which is essentially nothing but does create excitement around the area, would be a great idea!

“The Department and the Minister are very keen for an actual Icon, and have decided to go the route of a competition, to make sure that everyone’s views are heard. I have tried to establish a panel inclusive of views such as Prof Todeschini’s, who may be able to influence the panel to he’s view. I certainly agree with him, although I don’t have a vote.

“It would be helpful if you enter your idea of ‘nothing’ as the SMT is itself an icon. The more of these views we get through the competition the more weight it would carry.”

What bullshit! This is another example of the dumbing down of democracy.

So, it really sounds like a school competition or something on the back of a box of breakfast cereal, and certainly not aimed at a professional outcome…

“Anyone interested in entering the competition should send their concept idea, written out in no longer than one A4 page and a drawing (if necessary). If you are posting your entry please keep the drawing to an A4 page, preferably on the back of your written page. Entries can be emailed, posted or faxed, all clearly marked as SOUTHERNMOST TIP OF AFRICA COMPETITION.”

Please send entries to:
Email: finmin@pgwc.gov.za
Post: Ministry of Finance, Private Bag X9165, Cape Town, 8000

* A Foefie, in its kindest interpretation, is a Folly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 15 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.