One of the major mandates of organisations such as Cape Town Routes Unlimited (CTRU) – successor to the erstwhile Western Cape Tourism Board – is to facilitate the inclusion of previously marginalised tourism role players into the formal tourism economy and value chain. The CTRU also has to embark on a range of activities to ensure that not only players in the tourism industry but also the general citizenry of this province, whose taxes fund its operations, takes bigger pride in the province and its vast array of tourism market offerings. The citizens and residents also have to be developed into true ambassadors of the Cape Town & Western Cape brand(s). This can only be achieved if a greater sense of shared belonging and positive reference points is created. The spin-offs will be bigger support for domestic and international marketing efforts, as well as on-the-ground confirmation of the much touted Cape hospitality to people visiting the province, irrespective of their origin.

The brand management implications of the ongoing and extremely polarising debate about race, political affiliation, and belonging in the context of the Western Cape in general and Cape Town in particular seem to be underestimated by all involved. We continue to talk past one another and to selectively read what the other has written or said before we respond, often, with what appears to be off-the-shelf-and-ready-to-use-vitriol. Our responses and contribution to the ongoing debate continue to be clouded by the colours that we want to support – political and pigmentation – instead of the general good of all the residents of this beautiful province and city.

Issues relating to place names, access by previously marginalised individuals and communities, economic benefit by communities living in areas adjacent to nature reserves and other tourist attractions in the province, all have important bearing on how these people perceive themselves vis-à-vis the collective Cape Town and Western Cape brand(s). They also have bearing on the level of pride that the people will demonstrate in them. Since brands are built over many years and that it can take as much time for them to be firmly and favourably/positively positioned in the minds of their target audiences and the people who are of them, it is imperative that a stronger sense of shared belonging be cultivated early, rather than later, in the process. The children who will be adolescents in the next five years and beyond need to be helped to grow a better, more positive sense of ambassadorship for the Cape Town and Western Cape brand(s). The attributes of this brand have to go beyond the physical level and appeal to the cultural and the social – and indeed spiritual – aspects of what it is to be of this city and province. In other words, a stronger sense of shared belonging – across all religious, political, cultural, and racial lines – has to be consciously invested in by all levels of leadership – be it political, business, cultural, or religious.

It is principally for this reason that I have chosen to be in support of a collective leadership that will come in and aim not only to concentrate on delivering social services as if all else is normal in Cape Town and the Western Cape, but that will also consciously put in place strategies aimed at healing the historical divides that are at the root of ongoing political and racial mud-slinging. This stance is not meant to imply that the equitable delivery of social services and exposure of prosecutable corruption – as some might choose to selectively read this piece to be about – are not important. The delivery of social services and fight against corruption constitute normal activities that should be expected from any democratically elected leadership. The key, particularly in the context of the Western Cape, is that this collective leadership has to be mindful of where we come from as a country and of the details of past policies that led us to be such a divided people today. It is only when we acknowledge this past and agree to pledge – like former President Nelson Mandela did – that “Never again shall there be…” – that we can specifically put aside all remnants of this dark past. The future that we all wish to build for generations of South Africans to come can never be built on foundations of lies and denial, but of acknowledgement and willingness to do things differently.

A brand is like a slow growing tree that will one day give a good shade. This tree has to be grown and nurtured consistently over a number of years. The questions that we should all ask ourselves are: what kind of Cape Town and the Western Cape do we want to see in the next ten, twenty, fifty years and beyond. What kind of associations do we want future generations to make between their sense of belonging and various geographic and cultural icons in, around the City of Cape Town, and beyond? We also have to ask ourselves how they would describe living in Cape Town to friends and associates in other parts of South Africa and the world. Do we want future generations of coloureds to continue claiming – as some adults do today – that they are more of this part of our land than their (ethnic) African counterparts? Do we want future generations of (ethnic) Africans to continue complaining about exclusion and racism in the hands of everyone else? Do we want future generations of adolescent whites to continue – as some would have been taught by their parents – going on about the good old days when everyone knew their place in society, when there were no policies of affirmative action and BEE favouring (ethnic) Africans, Asians and coloureds? How do we want future generations of Cape Townians, therefore South Africans, to identify with one another and with what it is to be from this part of our country? And what sort of things should we be doing today to build proudly South African brands that will bring our people together despite their often superficial, yet divisive, cultural, political, and religious differences?

I had the fortune of visiting the islands of Hawaii a couple of years ago. In fact, it was during this trip that I made the decision that upon my return to South Africa I would come and specifically make a home in Cape Town. During this trip, on the island Oahu, I was tempted to believe that the citizens of the island had been collectively trained to display their Hawaiian pride in the manner that they carried themselves with locals and foreigners alike. My visit was not just a short, whirlwind, tour, but one that enabled me to experience amazingly friendly discussions with taxi drivers, waiters and waitresses, a hair dresser (I always get a hair cut in foreign lands in order to get a bit of the local gossip), car rental employees, bus drivers, and other people that I had the fortune to encounter during my stay. Not a single one of those people betrayed the friendliness that is always preceded by their welcoming “Aloha” (local greeting). I left Hawaii convinced that the people of that archipelago truly live their brand and that their brand lives in them. They know what it means to have a shared sense of core identities despite their cultural diversity. Naturally, their history has not been what we, in this part of the world, had to go through. Nevertheless, I believe that if we were to consciously start cultivating a stronger sense of belonging for all of our people, it would not be an impossible dream to realise over time.

Many people have gone on about democracy and the need to accept a democratic electoral outcome. It would be hard, and perhaps even silly, to argue against that. But, in the end, I would like to argue that it doesn’t make sense to limit our political options to cruel and often destructive conflicting alternatives that end up with the citizenry sitting on an unending “them and us” see-saw. We need a transformational, collective, leadership with which a much greater number of citizens and residents can identify. Its political mandate would be guaranteed solely by strategies that it puts in place to deliberately heal the historical divides on the one hand and, on the other hand, its equitable delivery of social services to the citizens. There remain too many physical spatial divides of the past, all determined by pigmentation and culture, that may appear to be insurmountable at first glance. But these divides can be overcome by innovative planning with a deliberate intention to bring our people together. Football stadiums, for instance, need not only be built in the flats because some choose to assume that that is where lovers of this sport will always be located. Unless we try the Nazi, Rwandan or Yugoslavian fits – which would never achieve anything positive – South Africa, and therefore Cape Town and the Western Cape, will always be a multi-racial, cultural and religious society.

We have to live with that and to start concentrating on the positive things that bring us together as a people and not, as in the past, the things that could be used to keep us apart, filled with almost suicidal prejudice. For this to happen, we need to insist on a political leadership that will make it one of its clearly articulated goals to heal the historical divides – for they have to be dealt with – and not one that pits groups against one another by exploiting their unfounded fears of the other for short-term political gains. That is how we can start building collective and proudly South African brands for future generations of South Africa in Cape Town and the Western Cape can identify with and share.