The last supper for Wits adverts

November 8, 1996

Now that they finally have something to smile about, are South Africans losing their sense of humour? The creators of a University of the Wi****ersrand advertising campaign think so.

The ads, including satirical print cartoons which show wealthy Jewish, black and WASP Johannesburgers slagging off the university over supper, were part of a marketing drive to attract good students to Wits and assure graduates that the integrity of their degrees is intact.

Three sets each of print and radio ads were run for three weeks ending in early October and timed to coincide with student applications. They were intended to counter recent perceptions of problems at Wits, and it was hoped that by being provocative they would spark serious debate over issues such as academic standards, transformation and degree recognition.

But the ads also attracted criticism of Wits' management taste and judgement. There have been complaints from Jewish people that one ad was offensive and stereotypical.

David Williams, head of public affairs, said: "Instead of pussy-footing around we decided to tackle issues head-on and get them out into the open. There are urban legends passed across dinner tables, about degree recognition, standards and unrest on campus, which are just not true."

Ironically, the agency responsible for the advertisements was Bernstein Loxton Golding & Klein & Associates. The cartoonist Derek Bauer, in the eye of the storm as creator of the printed advertisements, said he was surprised by reactions to them.

"It has been a complete over-reaction. But in South Africa's multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society it is extremely difficult to be a satirist: We have been through the Hitler-P. W. Botha era, now we are being suppressed by religious groups. It seems South Africans may just have lost their sense of humour," he said.

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