Gloomy citizens bruise SA brand

South African citizens are their country’s worst enemy when it comes to damaging its reputation around the world, says the man tasked with polishing South Africa’s image.

“We are our own enemies in damaging the brand,” the newly appointed chief executive of Brand SA, Kingsley Makhubela, told the Mail & Guardian in an interview this week. “We are very quick to talk about the negatives instead of highlighting the positives. The change I need to bring here is that we should refuse to be defined by the negative things.”

This is Makhubela’s challenge for the next five years of his term of office. He did add that he was not advocating for restraining anyone who raises problems, but that “talking about problems should also include coming with solutions. I’m not going to say, ‘let’s sweep things under the carpet’. The problem is that we spend a lot of time on the negatives.”

Despite South Africa’s economic struggles that saw the rand weakening, electricity shortages, the struggling mining industry that’s likely to shed thousands of jobs and the high unemployment rate, Makhubela is optimistic that his team will hold its own in selling the country.

“Some of the issues are a global phenomenon. The Australian dollar has, during the same period that the rand is struggling, lost 30% of its US$ value. The yuan has been devalued. As South Africa how do we mitigate against this? We must strengthen our global competitiveness.”

A former ambassador to Portugal (1996-2001) and high commissioner to Kenya (2001-2005), Makhubela said his previous jobs prepared him for the task at hand at Brand SA. “You tell the story of the strength of South Africa and attract people to invest,” he said.

“Our responsibility is to deal with the credibility of the country … politically, economically and socially. “The brand must be able to survive on its own. We have to serve as the first pair of eyes to the state to say ‘things like this enhance or damage the brand’,” he said.

Finding the balance between the good and the bad helped him remain positive about the country, Makhubela said. “Are the majority of South Africans contributing in the negativity that is happening? No. A lot of us are law-abiding, hardworking [citizens] and want to earn a living in a legal way. We must refuse to be defined by what a few bad apples do,” said Makhubela.

In his engagement with foreign colleagues and business people Makhubela said the most asked question was about South Africa’s high levels of crime. “That’s the biggest problem. Kingsley Makhubela gets mugged and the first thing I do is call the M&G and it becomes a big story.” He does acknowledge that the “gruesome nature of crime” in the country was a cause for concern. “Once someone robs you of a cellphone, why do they shoot you?”

Makhubela said he was still consulting widely to learn how the Brand SA office functions regarding administration and strategy implementation so that he would know where to contribute. A report by the national communications task team to Communications Minister Faith Muthambi has recommended that Brand SA’s board be reduced to nine members from the current 28. Makhubela, who only took his new post two weeks ago, said he is yet to see or get a briefing on the recommendations.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Mmanaledi Mataboge
Guest Author

Related stories

State’s new propaganda plan to hurt media budgets

President Jacob Zuma's administration has a new propaganda plan that includes establishing a government TV news channel.

Brand SA wants its bucks back

Communications Minister Faith Muthambi's panel bled cash from a state entity tasked with polishing SA's image, and it wants her to pay back the money.

It’s a brand new day for sunny Mzansi

If you thought finding a brighter side to Marikana was impossible, you clearly haven't met Brand SA.

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Fees free fall, independent schools close

Parents have lost their jobs or had salaries cut; without state help the schools just can’t survive

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed

White men still rule and earn more

Women and black people occupy only a few seats at the JSE table, the latest PwC report has found

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday