July 15, 2014
The National Arts Festival served as the forum for marketing newspapers the old-fashioned way via an on-foot, on-the-street sales force. That quaint “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” from black-and-white 1940s movies was replaced by hawkers proclaiming, “Cue for you!” for 5Rand (approximately 50 cents).
Other newspapers had hawkers but Cue, the daily print publication about the National Arts Festival put together with students, faculty and visiting journalists, reached out with the most decibels and the most determination. Ten Grahamstown residents, chosen in part because each was in need of work, hit assigned locations to sell as many copies of the paper by late afternoon.
Dollwonga Nquma (pictured) demonstrated a fearlessness and aggressiveness in encountering drivers in one of the busiest intersections of Grahamstown during Festival: where Somerset and High streets meet at the Drostdy Arch, the historic entrance to Rhodes University. As you can see, he had no trouble positioning himself in front of cars at the four-way stop yet moving aside so as to not impede traffic flow.
But Nomathamsanga Speelman, a first-year street saleswoman trying to work adjacent territory was a bit quiet and shy in trying to get sales. She was one of two “newbies” to the sales force. She was also among my first interviews for my first bylined story in a newspaper in 27/28 years.
My journalistic task this July day was to do a feature in the paper called “Vox Pop.” Yes indeed, I did the man-on-the-street feature so so many of my students initially dread. Do not let it be said I don’t practice what I teach.
I set out with a Cue Online reporter so he might work on a web feature called “Beyond the Programme” and a Cue Pix photographer to find vendors I see on the streets, by the main box office and even by the Pick n Pay supermarket. I knew they were everywhere… except for this morning.
The Cue hawkers at the box office/Village Green area where tents full of crafts and food vendors enticed festival goers were a little scarce or a little reluctant. That’s because I had taken their picture two days earlier. They remembered but I had not.
I also learned quickly to improvise because of how my first two interviewees responded to me.
First, when I asked my first interviewee to spell her name, she did not give me her family or surname. Her first name was indeed long but I needed both first and last names and my photog ran after her, spoke to her in Xhosa (I believe) and got a last name. So as to not prolong the process and to not create any friction, I asked each interviewee to write down his/her name in my notebook, getting them to smile when I told them that “I am a bad speller so please understand.” Besides, I was still doing some translation of the various South African lilts and wanted to take no chances.
Second, I had to adjust my questions. I wanted each to tell me what was the nastiest turn-down they had heard. Well, that wasn’t going to happen as they weren’t going to rat out a customer. “I just say thank you,” one told me. And my question about what they liked best about the Festival had to be asked a few different ways to get a more relaxed response.
But the response that floored me each of the two times I heard it was that the best part of Festival was being able to eat. Their earnings from selling Cue would provide them some food that day. In addition, the Cue managers/coordinators had provided some meals for them when they arrived back at the Africa Media Matrix (the building housing Journalism and Media Studies).
Their return to the journalism school provided me with a fallback plan to interview anyone I couldn’t find on the street (as a few were at sites I was not going to walk to). So if I couldn’t get them while on the job, I’d get them when they finished the job.
By 430p, the hawkers would return and tally up their sales and earnings of the day. In front of each was a stack of coins and plans for their location the next day. The Monument, which is the big arena at the top of this steep hill (and why I was not going to climb it) always drew the biggest acts of the day and also the biggest sales.
The end of the day also meant some relaxation and fun. So the interviewing was easy, if not sometimes raucous. Sibongiseni Mkrakra, a veteran hawker, gave me her best sales pitch good and loud. Calling her enthusiastic would be an understatement.
What I enjoyed the most from this assignment was the chance to put people who are often overlooked or whose lives I think we expect to be in the shadows out front. They even had a new pitch for the Cue with their vox pop in it: “Cue for you. Cue with me!”
The one thing I was really concerned about was getting their names wrong so I checked with Delise Moriarty, who oversees the Cue hawkers, and her coordinator to ensure I did not mess up.
This story also has a happy ending for those interested in the bottom line. Cue publisher Brian Garman reported at the Sunday staff brunch that sales were up a bit this year. I’d like to think those cleverly rhyming sales folk did the trick. Cue for You!