‘You are the key to the future’

Most TV viewers are used to seeing and hearing the slogan “South Africa: alive with possibility”, but few know how it came about.

One of those involved in its conception and adoption is Yvonne Johnston, chief executive of Brand South Africa, formerly known as the International Marketing Council.

Johnston’s organisation sells South Africa to the world as the preferred destination for trade and investment. And that’s no mean task.

The campaign to sell the country as a brand seems to be bearing fruit: Colorado-based TeleTech Holdings recently agreed to set up its facility in Cape Town. But, as Johnston says: “You can’t change global perceptions in a heartbeat.”

How old are you?
About to turn 50.


How do you earn your living?
By marketing South Africa, building national pride and promoting the country to improve tourism, trade and investment.

Where did you grow up?
My first 12 years were spent on a coffee estate in Nairobi, Kenya. My family emigrated to South Afirca when I was 12. The big city was a huge culture shock for me.

Which schools (primary and secondary) and university did you attend?
I went to Jeppe Girls for a few years and I finished my schooling at St Dominics Convent in Boksburg. Then I studied BA Dramatic Art at Wits, but sadly my mother could not afford for me to finish my degree.

Which year did you start your ­primary education?
When I was four. ( I was very bright.)
Secondary?
When I was 11, in 1969.

Tertiary?
In 1975.

Did you have a favourite teacher?
Wow, it is so long ago. I would have to say Mrs Friedland, who taught me maths at Jeppe Girls.

Why were you so fond of her?
She cared, was interesting, inspiring and made me love maths.

How did she influence you?
She taught me that understanding anything is possible if it is taught in an inspiring and interesting way, that all problems can be overcome with diligence and that sometimes what appears to be difficult at first can indeed be resolved.

Do you still have contact with her?
No.

What were your favourite subjects and why?
I loved drama, English literature and, believe it or not, I loved maths. I have always loved the spotlight and applause – hence the drama. I loved maths because I love solving problems, it provides a great sense of accomplishment and achievement, also because it provides a challenge and I enjoy that a lot. Give me what seems to be an insurmountable problem and I am completely happy trying to solve it.

From your point of view, what are the qualities of a good teacher?
To care, to engage, excite, enthuse and to inspire. Passion is tangible. The teacher must love his or her subject and weave the story around it that will teach the pupils the love and benefits of learning it.

What are the things a teacher should never do/say?
You are stupid.

What message do you have for teachers in South Africa?
You hold the key to our future. In many cases one meaningful intervention in a child’s life can provide direction forever. You have a massive responsibility and we are extremely grateful for the service that you render to our country.

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