THE successful launch of the Brand Summit South Africa in Cape Town last week opened up much-needed discussions about the evolving country/nation brand image of South Africa since the dawn of our young – and decidedly fragile – democracy in the early 1990s.
Delegates to the summit came from all over South Africa and from as far afield as Russia, Switzerland, Ghana, Namibia, France, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Madagascar, Ethiopia, the USA and more.
Others sent us dedicated video recorded messages from India, China, Johannesburg, Hungary, and Russia, expressing their desire to have been with us in Cape Town – perhaps next time.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng did a splendid job of reminding delegates of the real meaning of our Constitution, placing the emphasis of his address on the preamble to this founding document of our post-apartheid republic.
Many seem to forget it exists, let alone what it should mean in our daily interactions with one another as we continue to build and strengthen our democracy, as well as in our ongoing quest to position South Africa as an attractive country to be proud of at home and around the world.
He made sure not to omit the need to include South Africans and other Africans in the diaspora in our conversations about who we want to be as a country, and what we want to be known for and associated with.
They all play a role as potential country brand ambassadors in our drive to regain lost reputational ground. Their influencer role vis-à-vis the PR messages we send out can make or break the investments we place in our country marketing campaigns.
The investment drive team recently appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa will also need the assurance that South Africans in the countries they plan to visit will be the first to endorse their messages, instead of sabotaging them.
Furthermore, he noted that South Africa, like other country brands, does not exist in a vacuum. It competes with other country brands around the world for tourists, investments, and other opportunities that stand to help it grow an inclusive economy to benefit all of its people.
No tourist has to come to South Africa and no investor has to consider our country ahead of others, if South Africa fails to provide the most basic assurances that it can be safe and that it has, among other attributes, lawful and predictable political and economic policies which offer peace of mind to those considering doing business with us and in our country.
The chief justice spoke about the importance of values and principles, as well as the need to always be mindful of the rich diversity of our people.
All of them should eventually be candidates with equal opportunities to much-touted campaigns such as “Thuma mina”, so they can be called to contribute their talent and energy – even resources – to making South Africa great.
SA’s rainbow never loses any of its colours
This theme was further expanded on by Professor Thuli Madonsela, who insisted that the rainbow never loses any of its colours. She said this in response to a question about whether South Africa could still be regarded as a rainbow nation.
To this, she responded that what could have happened to our rainbow over the past decade is the loss of its original shape, not its colours.
“We just need to work together – perhaps in fresh conversations like we’re having in this gathering – to agree on the shape we want our rainbow to take,” she said to wide applause.
She reminded everyone that giving up should never be an option. Nobody seemed to disagree.
Corporate South Africa
Business leaders such as Bonang Mohale and Themba Maseko (Business Leadership South Africa), Simon Susman (Woolworths), Mteto Nyati (Altron), Crispin Sonn (Gamiro Investment Group), Gary Leih (Leih’s Truth and Propaganda), Kganki Matabane (Black Business Council) and others all agreed that corporate South Africa has a role to play.
At home it is through meaningful socio-economic development and contribution, and abroad by carrying our national flag with pride and mindful responsibility, in informing the domestic and global image of South Africa.
South African companies operating in other countries on the continent and around the world represent our country, and what it aims to stand for and be associated with.
Their conduct of business and corporate culture cannot be different in those countries to what it is on home soil.
There’s also a need to develop more innovative South African brands that can be used to export a positive image of our country as one that builds for the future.
South Africa, the African country brand
A particular discussion was led by Palesa Morudu, South African author and media personality, together with Ghana’s Samuel Mensah (founder and CEO of Kisua.com) on the evolving image of South Africa as seen from the rest of the African continent.
Other participants in this discussion came from Namibia and Nigeria, in particular, and were scathing about the attitudes of black South Africans, in particular towards fellow Africans from the rest of the continent.
This was expected, as South Africans are known for their seeming ignorance/disregard of the contributions made by other African states to various liberation movements based in their countries during the fight against apartheid.
Recent xenophobic attacks aimed principally at immigrants from other parts of the continent have done much harm to South Africa’s image around Africa.
The conduct of some South African businesses in other parts of Africa also came under the spotlight. It became evident that our fellow Africans are indeed either crying with us or angry at us for the country we have become.
A panel discussion led by Sean Lewis (UCT Graduate School of Business) and Neeshan Bolton, executive director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, led the attack to the effect that our country’s brand narrative has never been clearly defined and that, contrary to what the summit sought to achieve, still needs to be developed afresh and defined.
This led to a dynamic discussion – with delegate participation – on the need to ensure a seamless connection between what happens on the ground and the marketing messages sent by government in trying to reposition an attractive “South Africa of Nelson Mandela”, as promised by President Ramaphosa in his recent address to Commonwealth leaders in London.
The inaugural Brand Summit South Africa began what will be a series of easy and difficult discussions on the country we want to be. These discussions will be taken around the country and into several African countries over the next few years, as South Africa’s country/nation brand image cannot be separated from Africa’s brand image.