If South Africa were sitting on a shelf of the Continental Supermarket, where would it most likely be?
It is richly diverse, intricately textured with culture upon culture, and built upon the blood, sweat, tears and triumphs of generations of struggles. It is certainly a product with a story- a distinctively differentiated story that sets this nation apart on the competitive shelf of other young democracies in the aisle of Nations in (promising) Progress.
How much would it cost? If the value of its historical legacy; its present day cultural, natural and socio-economic diversity; and its projected national growth could be tallied, one might expect this nation to be priced “SQ” (Seasonal Quotation).
These are the kinds of questions that our national marketing agency, Brand South Africa, must consider. Whilst there is fortunately no actual Continental Supermarket, there is a more powerful market to which South Africa- and Brand SA in turn- must present itself: the global financial markets.
How can South Africa be presented to the world with relevance, distinctiveness, authenticity and consistency? What role do South Africans play as ambassadors of the country- both inside and outside its borders?
These were the challenges that arose from a very insightful discussion on 3 May with Leo Makgamathe, the current programme manager of Civil Society at Brand South Africa. Leo introduced the SAWIP Class of 2012 to the concepts of Nation Branding, the structure and work of Brand SA, and enhanced the discussion by opening up a dialogue on the role of young South Africans in nation- building.
In the spirit of development, the conversation was complemented online- with the SAWIP Class being encouraged to Tweet their thoughts, insights and questions.
Both the online and offline discussions generated a wealth of strategic thinking around issues of national marketing. Before being mistaken for a propaganda machine, Brand SA left the SAWIP team with a core lesson: in an age where more and more citizens are self-empowered reporters with a smart-phone, a social-network presence, and a public affairs opinion, no national marketing agency could put a glossy coat of advertising on a nation whose foundations needed collaborative maintenance. As recent events international events have proven, media spins are an effective means of evacuating foreign investors and public confidence.
Therefore, what Brand SA aims to accomplish, and what the SAWIP team was encouraged to do, was to remember the journey that this country has been on; to uphold the values upon which our democracy was built; and to encourage constructive dialogue about more active citizenship and less “active criticismship”. As the team walked away with their Proudly South African scarves and pins, the management team could almost certainly hear the whispers of the national anthem “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika…”
Many thanks must go to Board member Harry Calver who provided his vast insight and approachable wisdom to the discussion; as well as to the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation for providing a comfortable venue and hearty catering.