Curiosity: EGBOK and Springboks
by Marguerite Coetzee. South Africa’s story is one suspended in turbulence and this notion of uncertainty has rung true for decades. It’s not surprising, then, that Springbok Radio back in the day hosted a competition that asked listeners to decode the acronym: EGBOK. Just as the springbok transitioned from a symbol of separation to hope and then to unity, so, too, can we shift our national narrative and know that Everything’s Gonna Be OK.
The 1950s was a post-war era most commonly associated with a time of conformity and ‘traditional’ gender roles. Pop culture and mass media echoed messages of an ‘ideal’ society that largely excluded people of colour and fetishised domesticated women. It was during the Cold War that the term “nuclear family” was introduced to encourage American women to refuse a career and maintain their family instead. The US was introduced to commercial television, with a growing interest in and supply of soap operas. The target audience of these dramas, which were predominantly sponsored and produced by soap manufacturers, was assumed to be the typical housewife cleaning the house while she listened to the radio.
Meanwhile, South Africa launched its first commercial radio station: Springbok Radio. Similar to US TV at the time, its programmes were reminiscent of white suburban life. By the 1970s, it was making impressive strides (both financially and in listener popularity) yet, by 1985, Springbok Radio was operating at a loss and so it closed.
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It’s often stated — with undertones of shame — that South Africa was one of the last countries in the world to get a regular TV service (which happened in 1976). Those in leadership positions prior to 1976 opposed its introduction as it was feared it would bypass parental control in the household and encourage behaviour not accepted by the state.
Despite the late shift to TV, the impact of listeners transforming into viewers meant that less time was spent listening to the radio, and more spent on watching TV. This ultimately led to the end of Springbok Radio. Goodbye to The Adventures of Jet Jungle, sponsored by Jungle Oats and Black Cat; to the BP Smurf Show; and the Chappies Chipmunk Club. No More General Motors on Safari or the Castle Lager Key Game. Not one more Guess Who with All Gold or greeting the bride with Nestlé.
For some South African youth, 1985 was the end of their childhood memories; of gathering around the radio to listen to stories, music, sitcoms, news, and chat shows.
For all of SA, 1985 signalled the beginning of a crumbling oppressive system. The nation collectively held its breath and wondered what the outcome would be. Following Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 and the official political dismantling of apartheid, SA was allowed to participate in the 1995 Rugby World Cup — and won. Up until then, rugby and the Springbok team had been perceived as a symbol of division. As SA chased its dream of being a rainbow nation, the Springboks’ win transformed rugby into a symbol of hope.
In 2018, Siya Kolisi became the first black captain of the Springboks — born a year after Mandela was freed from prison but still carrying the weight of apartheid — and a year later he led his team to victory in the 2019 Rugby World Cup and rugby has become a symbol of unity.
It’s in times of chaos and moments of uncertainty that change is formed.
Regardless of what a brand’s legacy is, it needs to adapt to survive. Think about where your business could be heading, and the kind of future you want to create. Then make it happen.
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Marguerite Coetzee is an anthropologist, artist and futurist who provides research and insight services through Omniology. “Curiosity“, the latest series in her regular column on MarkLives, explores the hidden and obscure histories, stories, and experiences of things in South Africa.
This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.