The Gate Keeper: Chapter 21 (In which retirement is stage managed )
by Andrew Miller TBW Smith Jones Wallace Broadbent and Ndimande is an agency in crisis. Their ‘basket of boutique services’ strategy has bombed. Only a massive new project can keep the doors open – all eyes are now on the corporate tent at Mangaung. Far in the background, an emergency replacement executive PA with decades of experience makes important decisions. Interns rise, board members take unexpected steps and things begin to change…
The PR consultant is summoned, a charm offensive is planned and a deposit invoice is issued…
In which retirement is stage managed
Mama E barely managed to kill the audio feed and drop her stenography headphones onto her shoulders as Tim Broadbent strode out the executive boardroom at the pace of an Olympic walker. His head was high. There was a bright smile carved into his jaw. He nodded briskly at her and said her name loudly. “Melinda!”
She wasn’t sure if it was a greeting or a farewell or a command, so she said his name back. “Tim!”
And then he was gone.
Nonhlanhla Mofokeng led the rest of the TBW Smith Jones Wallace Broadbent and Ndimande EXCO out of the boardroom. “Melinda!” She barked at Mama E. “Get the PR people in for this afternoon please. Not the in-house ones. The real ones. In fact, just get Arthur Harris on the line – now. I’ll take care of the rest.” She marched into her office. The remainder of the team dribbled away in whispering ones and twos.
Arthur Harris was, he liked to say, proudly coloured. He was not so-called coloured. He was, quite simply, coloured. He had built his career on his ability to fix the un-fixable and, in his own mind, on a secondary but no less important ability to not only be coloured, but to speak all the official languages. It generally took South Africans by surprise, the fact that he acted and looked like a conventional member of his apartheid era racial grouping but could – when required – speak exactly like he was raised in the deep rural Eastern Cape, which he actually was.
In his early years, right up until his twenty first birthday, in fact, being the free racial radical was anything but beneficial. The son of a roaming (literally, not metaphorically, or sexually. Arthur’s father was part of Umkhonto we Sizwe and shifted location in perpetuity) white activist and an Eastern Cape ANC branch leader, Arthur lived his entire young life on the outskirts of everything. He was never fully accepted anywhere, and the laughter. Well, it was part of his life.
But when he arrived in Jozi to study he realised his power. The dealers on the city streets would casually sell girls and other things in front of him, openly cracking snide bushy comments to his face. Suddenly, standing on the corner of Jorissen, Arthur Harris realised the truth. He had the full new South African power. He could be black when he needed to, white when required, and he could always, at the slightest whim in fact, slip behind the various language curtains that hid the jibes and barbs and jokes and scheming of life in Mzansi.
Thus, the career path of one of Jozi’s most successful PR consultants was set.
Arthur Harris was pleased to hear from TBW Smith Jones Wallace Broadbent and Ndimande again. He’d always had fond memories of the place, especially the creative commons, a name he had proudly coined and which had stuck, rather successfully he understood, at the agency.
He greeted Nonhlanhla in crisp English, as always, and sat on the visitor’s side of her desk.
“Arthur,” she got straight to business. “We’re going to need a bit of damage control.”
“No, actually. Tim Broadbent. He’s gone rouge. Completely deranged, saying all sorts of strange stuff that could hurt us. He’s retiring, thank God, but we’re going to need to manage it very carefully. He can’t be allowed to speak. To anyone. Ever. We need to get him on the bus, fast.”
“A double page feature in AdVantage. A slot on Top Billing. Three or four lectures at scenario planning conferences. Guest columnist in City Press. Should do it.” Arthur Harris spoke with complete confidence. Nonhlanhla nodded along, while drawing a series of bold lines up and down the A4 pad inside her leather notebook. “Good. Good. I like it. A charm offensive.”
“Charm, yes, but really we just keep the old buzzard busy till we can chuck him out the door. We could try some kind of mentorship thing as well. We need to fill the hours until he goes.”
“There’s an intern at the moment who has been working a lot in strat. She came up with the whole Mangaung Hip Hop thing actually, but now we need to do something with her. No one wants to touch her. They’re all scared. She’s very good looking.”
“Perfect.” Arthur Harris stood, pulled his Dolce and Gabana laptop case to his side and turned to leave. “I’ll send you an invoice for the deposit this afternoon.”