A leading Namibian businessperson, Lazarus Ipangelwa – the chief executive of First National Bank in the country – died in a car crash in early September 2005. After his death, advertisements (many in colour, many full page) started appearing in all Namibian daily newspapers (Algemeine Zeitung, The Namibian, Die Republikein, New Era), paying tribute to his memory.  (View an example).

On one day in one paper (The Namibian – Monday 19 September) there were no less than 7 tributes to Ipangelwa. And this was two weeks after Ipangelwa’s death. If one takes the average cost for these adverts at N$3000 (R3000), and with an average of 5 a day in each of the four main papers over a period of two weeks one is looking at an expenditure of N$600 000 (R600000)!

That could have been used, for instance, to fund the education (in accounting or finance) of a total of 15 students for four years (At N$10 000 per year). Or to establish a fund for HIV/AIDS or orphans, etc.

Obviously it is fitting to remember the death of someone in this manner, but the scale of the tributes was (and still is) enormous. Fellow (rival) financial institutions, insurance companies, other businesses, even the Tsumeb Rally Club, took out full-page full-colour advertisements. It also has become a form of one-upmanship, whereby each company tries to outdo the other in terms of size and expense of the tribute.

It has become common for birthdays of, for instance, the President, Prime Minister and ministers to be marked in a similar way. A fishing company, for instance, will pay for a photograph and short ‘adulation piece’ for the Minister of Fisheries. The media themselves are revelling in this and there is a not inconsiderable financial income being realised from these advertisements.

But the tributes to Ipangelwa have created a new precedent. What will happen next time a high level business leader dies? These advertisements will become larger and larger and more and more expensive.

Should the papers take any responsibility for this expenditure? Do they have any power to prevent it? Surely, if the customer wants to place and advert and is willing to pay, then why turn down that potential income? ‘The customer is always right.’  On the other hand don’t the media have an obligation to shape society and to make the nation as a whole more prosperous and developed?

– Robin Tyson, University of Namibia