We need to clean up the im­age of the Rain­bow Na­tion, fast

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - Rich Mkhondo Rich Mkhondo runs The Me­dia and Writ­ers Firm (www.me­di­aand­writ­ers­firm.com), a con­tent de­vel­op­ment and rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment hub.

BESIEGED by fre­quent law­less­ness, xeno­pho­bia, fad­ing demo­cratic val­ues and al­most daily sto­ries of cor­rup­tion, bribery, loot­ing, abuse and wastage of state re­sources, Brand South Africa is slowly fad­ing. Ac­tu­ally, the Rain­bow Na­tion’s im­age has never been in as se­ri­ous trou­ble as it is now. As coun­try, we have a se­ri­ous im­age prob­lem.

Here are ex­am­ples to demon­strate our coun­try’s bat­tered im­age: Fre­quent

ex­posés of cor­rup­tion as nar­rated by the State of Cap­ture re­port, de­tail­ing al­le­ga­tions that the gov­ern­ment thrives on cor­rup­tion, bribery and loot­ing of state cof­fers; the anti-im­mi­grants at­ti­tudes; the down­grad­ing of South Africa’s sov­er­eign credit rat­ing to junk sta­tus; the stag­ger­ing rate of un­em­ploy­ment; the high rates of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and women abuse; and the brazen and heinous vi­o­lent crimes.

Brand South Africa threat­en­ing scan­dals are be­com­ing a reg­u­lar fea­ture of the cor­po­rate and po­lit­i­cal land­scape, thanks to a toxic mix­ture of ex­posés by moles who scat­ter de­tails of moral de­cay and the Internet, which al­lows bad news to spread like wild­fire world­wide.

There has also been the “Un­bur­den­ing Panel” by the South African Coun­cil of Churches, which painted the “sys­tem­atic sy­phon­ing of state as­sets,” and the “be­trayal of the prom­ise” stat­ing how “South Africa is be­ing stolen” by mul­ti­ple re­searchers who con­cluded they found that South Africa has ex­pe­ri­enced a “silent coup.”

Now the world is daily be­ing fas­ci­nated by #Gup­taLeaks, the tidbits from 100 000 to 200 000 unique e-mails sent be­tween the Gupta broth­ers, their as­so­ciates and oth­ers pur­port­ing to show how the fam­ily bro­kered favours from min­is­ters and ex­ec­u­tives of pub­lic en­ter­prises.

It is th­ese re­ports of the cul­ture of cor­rup­tion and moral de­gen­er­a­tion, the daily news of gov­ern­ment mis­man­age­ment and the pub­lic’s gen­eral care­less at­ti­tude to­wards the laws of our land that are hurt­ing the im­age and brand of our coun­try.

Our coun­try’s brand, that im­por­tant com­po­nent to na­tional de­vel­op­ment given its ef­fect on global trade, in­vest­ments, tourism and diplomacy, that sum to­tal of our way of life, her­itage, cul­ture and as­pi­ra­tions, that im­age which could mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing pre­ferred or writ­ten off, is be­ing se­verely bat­tered. We are slowly be­ing writ­ten off as a failed state.

Our pos­i­tive at­tributes are slowly fad­ing, re­placed by ma­te­ri­al­ism, self-en­rich­ment and self­ish­ness, the rich get­ting richer and the poor get­ting poorer.

That we are slowly be­ing seen as a na­tion ram­paged by cor­rup­tion is painful. It hurts even just to write about it. But this is the truth. We can no longer walk tall with our shoul­ders high. The cor­rup­tion that for many years per­me­ated across our con­ti­nent has ar­rived in earnest.

Scorn

I have re­ceived mes­sages from friends across the US, UK, Canada and across our con­ti­nent. Un­like in the past, when there was con­stant ad­mi­ra­tion, th­ese days there is scorn. My friends are tak­ing a dig at our coun­try on how we are grad­u­ally sink­ing into a law­less and cor­rupt na­tion, strik­ing out the demo­cratic val­ues that have en­abled us to sur­vive against the odds and be­gin to thrive.

Re­cently, while vis­it­ing Lon­don and Manch­ester in April, fel­low Africans laughed at me, made snide re­marks such as: “Shame. For many years you thought you were bet­ter. Now your coun­try is as cor­rupt as those African coun­tries you looked down on for many years. Why are you let­ting cor­rup­tion get worse in your coun­try? Shame you thought you were bet­ter than us. What hap­pened to the Man­dela magic?”

As an ad­mirer of coun­try brand­ing, hav­ing a strong im­age gave our na­tion grav­i­tas. Now I cry as I see the flame of our brand die. For years I have fol­lowed and en­joyed how coun­tries brand them­selves. I clearly re­mem­ber New Zealand’s “For­ever Young”, which per­fectly cap­tured the youth­ful en­ergy of the coun­try’s young pop­u­la­tion. In­cred­i­ble In­dia and Malaysia’s “Truly Asia” at­test­ing the in­tegrity and spirit of th­ese Asian tigers.

I have ad­mired how Sin­ga­pore­ans have es­tab­lished them­selves as a com­pe­tent, hard work­ing and law-abid­ing na­tion and how South Kore­ans have en­deared them­selves as a coun­try whose cul­ture also endears it to the world.

I have mar­velled at how France is associated with chic, Great Bri­tain with class, Swe­den with de­sign, Ger­many with en­gi­neer­ing and Switzer­land with pre­ci­sion.

The above coun­tries have shown us that na­tion brand­ing takes into ac­count dif­fer­ent things: tourism, ex­ports, peo­ple, pol­icy, cul­ture and in­vest­ment and most im­por­tantly, moral lead­er­ship.

Of course, our “Alive with Pos­si­bil­i­ties” gave us an af­fir­ma­tive self-im­age, par­tic­u­larly when looked at in con­junc­tion with for­mer Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki’s “I am an African…” speech turned poem.

Now I doubt if as South Africans we still be­lieve in our­selves like we did like 10 to 15 years into our democ­racy.

Brand South Africa con­tin­ues to be bat­tered and is fad­ing dis­mally. The aura that en­veloped not only the pri­vate sec­tor, cit­i­zens and our na­tional at­tributes and helped us to be ad­mired and em­u­lated and treated with re­spect, is dy­ing. We should be un­der no mis­ap­pre­hen­sion. The scenes of wan­ton po­lit­i­cal and moral an­ar­chy have dam­aged the rep­u­ta­tion of this coun­try in a way that will take years to re­pair.

What can we do? How can we re­gain our pos­i­tive brand essence? The thing that has caused so much dam­age to Brand South Africa is fore­most a fail­ure to do the right thing, as op­posed to a fail­ure to in­ter­pret and fol­low the law.

The key to a suc­cess­ful re­gain­ing of our moral high ground lies in re­gain­ing the con­fi­dence of mul­ti­ple groups – in­vestors, cus­tomers, em­ploy­ees, part­ners and sup­pli­ers – each with their own con­cerns.

We can­not af­ford to be­come the laugh­ing stock of the world. Our coun­try’s global brand lead­er­ship will not thrive on com­pro­mise, but re­quires the head and the heart to work in har­mony.

To re­build Brand South Africa we need po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness lead­er­ship, clear and hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion and a high in­tegrity po­lit­i­cal and cor­po­rate cul­ture.

We need to em­bed into the fab­ric of our coun­try’s pos­i­tive val­ues and prin­ci­ples codes of con­duct that fo­cus equally not only on what ev­ery South African can and can’t do, but also on what we should and shouldn’t do.

Cor­rup­tion can be a scourge in democ­ra­cies or dic­ta­tor­ships. But it is more likely to fes­ter when we have no way to hold the per­pe­tra­tors and our gov­ern­ment ac­count­able. To de­feat cor­rup­tion is to en­force the dis­tinc­tion be­tween pri­vate pref­er­ence and pub­lic duty. As cit­i­zens we are also re­spon­si­ble in com­mu­ni­cat­ing that we are a force for good and ca­pa­ble of putting aside self-in­ter­est and cor­rupt ten­den­cies.

Mis­guided

Cor­rup­tion is a so­ci­etal is­sue and must there­fore be con­fronted by all of us. Those who point fin­gers or sim­ply as­sume that the gov­ern­ment alone must act are mis­guided. We must stop the “it is our time to eat” cul­ture of black en­ti­tle­ment to com­pen­sate for past suf­fer­ing un­der apartheid.

We must ac­cept that cor­rup­tion amounts to noth­ing more than greed and theft and it de­prives com­mu­ni­ties of much-needed ser­vices and stands as a clear and present dan­ger to our hard-won free­dom. It ad­van­tages the pow­er­ful over the weak, and cre­ates re­sent­ment be­tween the “haves” and “have nots.”

To fully re­store the South African brand to its for­mer glory, we should fo­cus on a strat­egy aimed at restor­ing trust all around, em­pha­sise com­mit­ment to mak­ing things right, ar­rest the moral de­cay, show the world that we are truly re­morse­ful and tak­ing steps to right our wrongs.

We need to clean up in­ter­nal prob­lems and re­turn to our coun­try’s core moral val­ues and be­gin to in­ten­tion­ally align our cul­ture and take a long view. Af­ter all, brands are not built – and cer­tainly not re­built – in a day.

Our work as civil so­ci­ety is clear: we have to spread a mes­sage of hope across the con­ti­nent and the world. Peo­ple need to be given the space to stand up against cor­rup­tion and wastage without fear of re­tal­i­a­tion. It is ev­ery­one’s duty to get se­ri­ous about end­ing the wide­spread im­punity when tar­nish­ing of Brand South Africa.

Re­gain­ing the trust of the world poses a tough chal­lenge, re­quires ma­jor be­havioural change and a leap of faith in all of us. In­deed, re-es­tab­lish­ing a pos­i­tive coun­try brand ex­pe­ri­ence are keys to find­ing the way back, but it will be a long road to re­cov­ery.

Our pos­i­tive at­tributes are slowly fad­ing, re­placed by ma­te­ri­al­ism, self­en­rich­ment and self­ish­ness, the rich get­ting richer and the poor get­ting poorer.

PHOTO: REUTERS

In this file photo, a man waves a South African flag af­ter the death of for­mer Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela. The coun­try has come a long way from the moral high ground it en­joyed, says the writer.

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