In PR terms, context is golden. It is key to the message – it can make or break a campaign or a personality – just look at Katie Hopkins tweet about Scots in the week of the helicopter crash, or the President and Prime Minister’s selfie.
So when Dad flew off to South Africa to cover the 2013 Nelson Mandela Championship in Durban the week of the great man’s memorial, I was keen to know how he would approach his intros and what the mood would be like.
“It’s subdued and sombre – among players and the TV crew,” he told me over Skype. “The awful weather and rain interruptions are somehow appropriate.”
He said it had felt like a privilege to be in the country at such an historic time and I envy him. He’s visited South Africa many times (always for the European Tour events before Christmas, so that he has a sickening tan for the festive season) but I’ve never been and I’d love to.
The country’s history is so fascinating to me, I’ve always admired the way South Africa came out of apartheid so relatively peacefully.
“Yes, it is no exaggeration to state that he – perhaps he alone – has pointed the way ahead and avoided virtually a civil war in the country,” Dad said. “The white minority, no matter how civilised and apolitical they saw themselves, genuinely feared a racial backlash after he was freed. Mandela’s role, and crucially, that of FW De Klerk, was to preach forgiveness and understanding as the only way ahead.”
So how did Dad respect the context of the tournament that was named for the country’s great leader?
“Well, it has been coincidental, but appropriate, that the second playing of this championship is taking place this week. The backdrop is a nation in mourning,” he said. “My intros have reflected that, with shots of play pausing for a minute’s silence and flags at half mast. Every TV Channel is showing virtually wall-to-wall coverage of the memorial service, crowds filing past the coffin in Pretoria and people sharing their memories of Mandela.”
Some of the commentary team come from South Africa and it seems conversation around the dinner table after work has been serious. They’ve been discussing the future of the country and raising the fear that Mandela’s legacy may be tainted by a president widely felt to be corrupt.
“Jacob Zuma was booed during the Memorial Service on Tuesday, which most people, even ANC supporters, are actually seeing as a positive sign,” Dad said. “The real fears, expressed by the older generation of white South Africans, but also by many urban, educated members of the black community, is that now that Mandela, the much-loved, civilising influence has gone, the old tribal rivalries will re-emerge and set a country which still has major issues with crime, poverty and lack of education, on a backward route.”
Mandela knew that in a world context, sport was a great unifier, and so focused some of his energies on the Rugby World Cup, which the country hosted and won the year after its first democratic elections.
I will be interested to see if this strategy is used again and whether the golf world might have any role to play.