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September19

Brand South Africa – Alive With What Possibilities?

Brand South Africa has undergone amazing changes since the early 1990s when long-serving anti-apartheid political prisoners were freed and multi-party negotiations took place to determine the country’s future. It went from a pariah brand – one that very few were happy to associate publicly with – to one of hope – that everyone wanted to be seen to be friends with. The release of Nelson Mandela from almost 27 years of incarceration was greeted all over the world with much enthusiasm and renewed hope in the kindness of humans and belief that triumph over all manners of adversity was possible. The transforming Brand South Africa needed and received much endorsement from the Mandela Brand. People believed in the latter and, by extension, opened up to the former.

 

Key challenges to Brand South Africa

As the Mandela government settled in and started dealing with the challenges of South Africa, skeptics kept comparing the possible outcome to many failed post-colonial projects elsewhere in Africa, almost convinced that South Africa would be no different. But the Mandela government was not there to change things radically. Aware of the need to assure minority communities internally, on the one hand and, on the other hand, the hawk-like watchful eye of the international community, Mandela sought to present the New South Africa as the true Rainbow-Nation that it was described as, a home for all. He needed skilled and wealthy South Africans – mostly whites who had benefitted from apartheid policies – to stay and help rebuild the country; he also wanted the international community, especially donor nations, to have confidence that South Africa would not repeat the mistakes of others. The country’s coffers were near empty and its foreign debt had reached unacceptable levels. This was also reason for ensuring that confidence was built into Brand South Africa. The Mandela government went out of its way toreassure, to build and to attract.

The state of Brand South Africa today

Brand South Africa has become a mixed bag of confusing messages over the last ten years. While Mandela’s successor, former President Thabo Mbeki, was correct to start addressing issues that appeared to have been neglected under his predecessor’s rule; racial economic inequalities, poverty, skewed racial spatial planning and development and many others, the knock-on effect was on Brand South Africa. Many feared that Mbeki was a racist Africanist who did not care about world opinion. His utterances on the HIV/AIDS pandemic and apparent support for the despotic Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, were criticized in and outside South Africa. These two issues alone almost eclipsed the good work that was being done elsewhere, especially the well managed economy that knew more than 10 years of uninterrupted growth. The negative shadow cast on Brand South Africa by perceptions about Mbeki became hard to dismiss.

Following Mbeki, Brand South Africa, now led by President Zuma, still suffers too many negative perceptions. This is particularly so because of the Julius Malema effect; a negative one that Zuma still needs to show South Africans and the world that he can control and that he has no fear of. Reported hundreds of overseas FIFA 2010 World Cup cancellations that happened as a result negative press generated by Malema’s behavior do not bode well for Brand South Africa. Quo Vadis?

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