The opening line of my Crisis Communication workshops is: “Bad news happens to anyone. It is a matter of when, not if.”
Even if you are honest and always operate with the best of intentions, at some time you may unexpectedly find yourself in the limelight of negative publicity.
I am sure Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, after the weekend news and the social media marathon in the past 24 hours or so, can attest to this.
The story according to the Sunday Times is that Radebe was caught exchanging sexual texts with a junior staffer in his department.
The content is too potent to repeat here, suffice to say Radebe has been seriously hurt by such revelations, which from the face of it, are not untrue.
I am not in the business of making moral judgements and I will not even start today. From where I sit, this seems to be a matter of two consenting adults that went sour and ended up in the hands of the media.
Whatever Radebe did or did not do with the said young photographer has absolutely no bearing in government work, unless of course someone can demonstrate this to me.
And to that effect, I do not care whether or not he ultimately received the requested picture of the body part. If she was a willing partner and there was no harassment, he is on safe ground.
But there ends the good news for Radebe. The bad news is that although it is not a matter of public interest, it is no doubt interesting to the public.
After all he is not only a senior government minister – the de facto prime minister – he is reportedly a (closet) presidential hopeful in the ANC leadership race, he is married in the Motsepe dynasty.
His profile is attractive to the media. It makes for interesting gossip. If linked to such reports like sexting and nude pics, it is rather sexy, in media terms.
And that is why it made news. I do not know any news media company would have turned down the story if it was leaked first to them. The Sunday Times did what the media do.
So to this effect, it will not help to complain about the media. That’s what they do.
It is completely of no value to insult the young woman for being expedient or accusing the Radebe of being immoral. Frankly no one has the right to play saint.
Until otherwise proven, he is not guilty of any crime, not even of bad governance. If anything, he is guilty of not taking care of crimes of passion. And once they are exposed, he must just bear the cross.
My advice to Radebe is to take it on the chin. He is going to be ridiculed some more. The story is going to stay alive for a while.
To the extent of how much this could damage his presidential hopes, I have my doubts. To the extent this will impact his standing as minister, I think it should not, at all.
But it will surely affect his public image. He will be reminded of this faux pas for a long time to come. It may even affect his family ties. And he can be sure his adversaries, inside and outside his own party, will milk this dry.
The one mistake he must not commit is to try and manage the story either by denying what cannot be denied, or by coercing his tormentor to withdraw her accusations. That will put more heat in the room, so to speak.
For now, he can bank on one thing: his government will have another scandal sooner or later, and his story will fade away (only to reappear from time to time).
[Follow me on twitter @ramsbythehorns]