IF BRAND South Africa were a currency, would it, in your eyes, have the same value today as it did, say, 15 years ago –  or better, worse?

Considering how it is perceived generally now as opposed to 15 years ago, how much would you be prepared to put down for it today? Looked another way, if you had purchased shares in BrandSA 15 years ago, would you be smiling on your way to the bank today?

I found myself thinking about the value of our national brand/destination brand/BrandSA while very recently havingSA a meal with my German friend – we’ll call him Joachim – who is preparing to return to his home country.

I’ve known Joachim for just over three years now. He came to South Africa about 10 years ago, optimistic and idealistic.

From the start, I’ve always known him to be a generally positive fellow, entrepreneurial and charitable. One of the first things he did when he arrived was to join the Rotary Club, because he wanted to contribute to the upliftment of people who were less fortunate; and he has achieved that over the years.

He also managed, after the first five years of residence in South Africa, to obtain permanent residence and had been toying with the idea of retiring here. Until recently. But what has changed, I asked him? “Too much has changed,” he offered.

“It’s a combination of increased levels of corruption, poor political leadership, and a plethora of immigration laws that appear to be aimed at frustrating people like me.”

Now, Joachim came to South Africa with some money, a dream and ideas to contribute towards the development of this beautiful land. In the list of things that were warning lights to him is a decision by Mercedes Benz not to go ahead with the production of a premium Mercedes model in South Africa, after the company was frustrated by protracted discussions with government.

He also related stories about senior home affairs officials accepting wads of cash to facilitate immigration processes for foreigners who could afford to pay for South African identity documents.

“I’ve heard about people paying up to R10 000 in order to speed up the process following months of waiting, frustrated by a combination of red tape and apparent incompetence at home affairs,” said Joachim.

“They simply wanted to get it over with and continue their lives; but it is possible that there are also many criminals fleeing justice elsewhere who simply pay their way into South Africa. That is the scary part,”he confided, “the main reason behind the UK’s decision to revoke free entry into the UK by South African passport holders.”

Lost innocence of SA passports

Some of us will remember that there was a time – now it seems like ages ago – when South African passport holders could go into the UK without needing to apply for a visa.

That time is long gone. Now, not everyone who walks about with a South African passport can be trusted to be legitimately in possession of it.

We’ve seen how people like Samantha Louise Lewthwaite, also known as Sherafiyah Lewthwaite, Natalie Webb, or the White Widow, managed to obtain South African papers as soon as she arrived in the country after fleeing Kenya and the UK, soon after her first husband, Germaine Lindsay, killed himself and dozens of innocent civilians in the 7/7 terrorist attack in London.

Lewthwaite is also alleged to have belonged to Al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based radical Islamist group that is often accused of orchestrating several attacks on civilians in Kenya, including the Mombasa Westgate Shopping Mall attack in 2013. Her second husband, Somali-born Habib Saleh Ghani, is said to have belonged to a militant cell that was hibernating in Johannesburg when she joined him here.

These issues, together with the increasing crescendo of reports that our country can no longer produce sufficient electricity for its struggling economy – let alone for potential investors requiring a consistent and reliable power supply – must be making it very hard for institutions mandated with protecting and enhancing the image of BrandSA to do their work.

Endlessly producing fancy and expensive commercials to try and convince the watching world otherwise, while the reality on the ground seems to consistently work against them, must require a lot of faith.

The endless shenanigans by our political leaders, also widely reported in our media, must be creating a nightmare for whoever is tasked with telling the world that South Africa is “Alive with possibilities” or, more recently, “Inspiring new ways”.

We have to ask ourselves, how much has all of this damaged the equity in BrandSA that late president Nelson Mandela handed down to us upon leaving office?

How many investors have speculated and lost their money on BrandSA over the years? And what can we do to salvage the value that still remains in it, so that our country can still borrow money at good rates from international lending institutions, attract more foreign direct investment, grow respect and restore admiration in the rest of Africa and, generally, grow goodwill for everything South African?

The answer might be simple. We need to look honestly in the mirror, understand where we have gone wrong as a national brand and implement the correct remedies to regain lost value in BrandSA.

*Written for Fin24.com*