What’s in a name? Hey Tito, Cyril is just fine for now

You’ll never find Tito Mboweni asking people to imagine anything on social media, because he leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. With Tito, it’s always a case of WSYWIG, what you see is what you get, whether he’s admiring vegetables on his Magoebaskloof farm in Limpopo, cooking up a storm in his kitchen – and sharing the progress in real time – or admiring Rwanda, and Kigali in particular.

Rwanda’s honorary epicurean at large couldn’t contain himself on Sunday. Cyril Ramaphosa’s inauguration was a PR tour de force for everyone involved, especially the SANDF and the air force in particular. It was right up there with Madiba and possibly even the 2010 opening ceremony for sheer feel good factor, but by Sunday, our minister of finance was having a sense of humour failure about everyone calling the president ‘Cyril’.

“This thing of referring to the President by his first name must STOP now. Cyril this Cyril that. Stop it. President Ramaphosa. Get it, media!

And then he just couldn’t help himself.

“In Kigali, we refer to President Kagame NOT him as Paul! Hayibo! Please people!”

But Shasha, if I may or Minister Mboweni if you insist, raises an important point: Is calling the president by his first name disrespectful even if it’s an act of affection?

Nobody called Madiba, Nelson except a couple of strugglistas who were the same age as him, but then again very few people called him Mandela. He was just Madiba or, if people were feeling particularly warm and fuzzy; Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela in full. Jacob Zuma was known as JZ, until he was caught with his hands in the till up to his armpits and then he just became Zuma in headlines.

And that’s the point I think that Tito is getting to, it is a media construct first and foremost because Mboweni or Ramaphosa are both too big for newspaper posters – if you actually want to read them as you drive past. Their length makes them an absolute nightmare for subs trying to lay out a page

It’s not the names in the headlines that are disrespectful it’s the fake news that might run beneath the headlines. Thankfully in this country we haven’t had too much of that when it comes to the president – with a couple of notable, awful, exceptions. We’ve got a robust media and an even more pungent, no holds barred, public space for debate and dissent. That’s probably because we don’t fall over ourselves with titles.

In fact those who do, especially those who grab onto the most vapid and ill-deserved honorary titles and brandish them delightedly are often the very worst when it comes to respecting other people’s democratic rights – and I’m not thinking about His Excellency President for LifeField Marshal Alhaji Dr Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE here either. We’ve got a couple of our own homegrown horrors to deal with.

So no, Tito, I think Cyril’s just fine for the moment. It’ll be interesting to see what the headline writers come up if the New Dawn ends up being a False Dawn though.

Originally published on 1 June 2019 in the Saturday Star