This story has been updated to include a response by Brent Dyssell…
Even though I haven’t been anywhere near Long Street or Kloof Street for the best part of a month, I’m familiar with the billboard that has featured in multiple drone videos of the city.
The message is a simple one, but the legalities of how it got there are a little murkier.
In fact, the City of Cape Town says the owner of the signage company that erected the banner has contravened a by-law, and could face punishment.
Over to IOL:
According to the City, Brent Dyssell, the managing director of Independent Outdoor Media who is responsible for the poster and an additional 25 posters across the city, put them up knowing it was unlawful to do so. But Dyssell said the posters were his way of helping to make the public aware of precautions that should be taken during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The City has chosen to take issue with this, and it should be condemned. No one else has been doing this. I have put up posters all over in high-risk areas (where there are) horrific living conditions. It feels to me that something else is going on, and they have threatened to take me to court,” he said.
I guess laws, and by-laws, are there to be enforced, but this seems somewhat unnecessary.
Dyssell says he was told by the City to take the posters down, which has threatened to take him to court, but believes it is his “constitution-enshrined right” to put them up.
Here’s Mayco member for spatial planning and environment, Marian Nieuwoudt:
“Compliance notices have been issued to various parties in terms of the by-law, including Mr Dyssell… on April 9,” Nieuwoudt said.
“This behaviour puts the City in a very difficult situation. We appreciate and welcome the efforts from local business owners and residents to limit the spread of Covid-19. Still, whatever we do must be within the confines of the law.”
Dyssell and his company were also behind the ‘Zuma Must Fall’ billboard that went up in 2016, before being torn down by the then president’s angry supporters.
It looks like he won’t be backing down on this one:
“There’s been a lot of communication with the City during this time. I am in the communications business, and I have the ability to get the message across,” he said…
“I’m sick of it and it’s not fair. I’m trying to do a good thing… It’s about saving lives on a signage structure that was approved by the City,” Dyssell said.
We may be a step closer to knowing how much longer we have to stay at home after President Ramaphosa’s address tonight, although a government document that circulated yesterday points to varying degrees of lockdown measures in our immediate futures.
UPDATE: Independent Outdoor Media, on behalf of Dyssell, has issued a response. It is reproduced, in part, below:
Brent Dyssell, Managing Director of Independent Outdoor Media (IOM) made the decision to commit his company’s funds to produce 25x large artworks to educate the city residents, both formal and informal, and reinforce the message to #stayhome with the aim of preventing infection, and possible death, related to the COVID-19 virus.
“Many of our city’s most vulnerable residents, and the homeless, were not aware of what the lockdown means and the need to stay at home” explains Mr Dyssell. “The fact is, not everyone is fortunate enough to have access to TV or Wi-Fi news sources. So a vital awareness campaign like this needs mass media exposure and frequency, and could be the difference in saving lives.”
…Mr Dyssell managed at very short notice to ensure that all necessary work permits were in place, and then rolled out the largest COVID-19 outdoor media awareness campaign in South Africa, right here in Cape Town. “Although IOM has provided the necessary funding, it really has been a group effort”, explains Dyssell. “the majority of Cape Town’s established outdoor media operators jumped on board and their generous support was matched by Cape Town property owners and Provincial officials.”
The latter comes as no surprise since our Western Cape Provincial Government has previously shown appreciation for public service campaigns run by IOM, culminating in a Parliamentary resolution taken on 4 May 2017 that officially acknowledged “the efforts taken by Independent Outdoor Media to unite this city, recognising our Freedom Day by placing the largest South African flag at the top of Long Street. United we stand.”
But Debbie Evans, Chief Environmental Control Officer and representative of the City’s Signage department clearly feels differently and is leading the charge to try and derail the campaign and have all COVID19 awareness messages removed on the basis that IOM did not “seek City permission”. This is an extraordinary position since the signage structures in are all City approved and entirely legal, and that City permission is for such public awareness messaging is expressly not required.
Disputes between IOM and City’s Signage Department have been ongoing since the erection of an infamous ‘Zuma Must Fall’ banner which adorned a landmark building at the end of Long Street. For the past four years, the City has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent IOM from continuing to use this approved signage structure for commercial purposes, this while City has been openly issuing approval for new advertising signs for other large corporates, this within a matter of days.
Despite numerous attempts to secure rational explanation from the City, Mr Dyssell remains in the dark as to the motives behind what he describes as a ‘vendetta’. “There is clearly something improper and untoward happening here”, he explains, “and this is an extreme example of how narrow-minded bureaucracy could actually cost lives. To be 100% clear, all the COVID-19 related artworks are public service ‘notices, and are not ‘advertising signs’. Advertising is defined as “the activity or profession of producing advertisements for commercial products or services” and it is wholly evident there is no gain here for anyone apart from unity, and saving lives we hope. I am funding this at my own expense and my broader aim is to penetrate deep into our more densely-housed and highest risk TB and immuno-compromised communities, where the potential for infection and death is the very greatest to our City.”
…The lack of appropriate and satisfactory explanations from City has left IOM desperate for answers. “What possible issue could the City have?” asks Dyssell. “It just seems insane that some City employees would put people’s lives at risk to satisfy a personal agenda or engage in some sort of misguided power-play. At some point, you have to stand up and call out leaders for not having the courage to support the people who are committed to the city. I think most conscious Capetonians would be ashamed to hear how these efforts have been blocked and rejected,” Dyssell says.
“If ever there was a time when we need to prove that we are in this together, it’s now,” he concludes, “but that’s never going to happen if we can’t hold City official accountable for their actions.”
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