/ 30 June 2023

Critical Thinking Forum: State of the Nation Report launch

P1 Panellists
Moderator Cathy Mohlanhlana; Dr Ntombifuthi Nala, Director GCIS; Dr Leroi Raputsoane, Chief Economist at Productivity SA; Alan Mukoki, CEO SACC; and Jan Wegelin, MD of MarkData.

Brand South Africa unveils key findings on the nation’s identity and global reputation

Brand South Africa has undertaken the task of tracking the pulse of the nation to find out from citizens what it means to be South African, how South Africans view themselves in relation to the state, and what they want South Africa to be in the future. The report also highlights the country’s global reputation across 10 000 participants, from travellers to investors, in 13 countries.

The State of the Nation Report initiated in 2017 identifies three central pillars that are considered to be at the core of our national identity: social cohesion, active citizenship and national pride, along with behavioural expressions of South African identity. Behavioural expressions refer to how people respond to their realities and include characters such as proud character supporters, activist supporters and the politically discontented. The three pillars serve as the foundation upon which the South African identity is being constructed in the report, reflecting the country’s diverse cultures, languages and aspirations. 

The research identified and monitored domestic and international indicators to develop the nation’s brand concept, which also acknowledges the complex history and diverse population of South Africa. Through domestic research on what the South African brand means, in a sample size of 2 500 respondents, Brand South Africa is collecting and analysing the views of citizens, to contribute towards a broader understanding of nation branding. For its global reputation, Brand South Africa partnered with Productivity SA and Bloom Consulting, to expand on global competitiveness as part of the World Competitiveness Yearbook and to determine global perceptions of South Africa. 

The study found, among other things, that international audiences rate the country among the top five places to visit, invest or do business in and to relocate to. Tourism is one of South Africa’s strongest brand dimensions — travellers have in general a positive perception of the destination. As for the experience, South Africa makes the top five travel destinations along with such brands as Turkey, Egypt and Thailand. Up to 75% of tourists would love to visit South Africa, as they are attracted by its diverse wildlife, culture and climate. However, there are concerns about crime, inequalities and racial tensions.  

Whether it’s rooted in sporting achievements or the country’s natural beauty, national pride serves as a unifying force for the shared appreciation of what it means to be South African, but the notion of national pride extends beyond these surface-level aspects. It also involves recognising and appreciating the country’s diversity, including its many cultures and languages. The report highlights the importance of embracing and celebrating these differences, illustrating the evolving meaning of national pride for South Africans.

Even as South Africans face the challenges of poverty, unemployment, load-shedding and corruption, there is still a strong sense of shared humanity. According to the report, social cohesion plays a vital role in shaping the South African nation. Through interactions with each other and understanding our collective difficulties, we can begin to recognise our shared humanity, fears and aspirations, and realise that we are connected. The report notes that social cohesion emerges when South Africans realise they have a responsibility towards each other, are responsible for each other’s wellbeing and work together towards a common goal by integrating their diverse contributions and backgrounds. We often see ordinary citizens step up to be the heroes that our government is failing to be. 

“What we see as business quite clearly is that the area of social cohesion is one of the biggest threats and at the same time opportunities in terms of how we move this economy from a developing economy into a developed economy,” says South African Chamber of Commerce CEO Alan Mukoki. “Business leaders recognise the importance of addressing societal challenges, such as poverty, unemployment and inequality to foster economic development. Business does not need to be solving government problems; businesses need conditions that will enable them to thrive, so they can empower citizens to participate in growing the economy,” says Mukoki. 

Vhahangwele Tsotetsi, founder of Project Youth South Africa, says: “Young people are not participating in civic duties such as voting because they are mostly worried about bread and butter issues. If you can create conditions that enable young people to empower themselves, then it will be possible to encourage young people to contribute towards democracy.”

Jan Wegelin, Managing Director of MarkData, says: “South Africans endorsed the importance of the transition to democracy in 1994 with a record-high voter turnout. Ever since, with every election, the number of political parties increases while the number of voters decreases — a negative correlating trend. There is a growing concern about the capability of government to deliver services coupled with the concern about corruption; these aspects may negatively affect the willingness of voters to cast their vote in the upcoming elections. The most recent data indicates the largest ever recorded “uncertain who to vote for” group — almost 25% — who are looking for a new political home.”

P1 audience
Members of the audience listen attentively at the Brand SA/Mail & Guardian Critical Thinking Forum.

Active citizenship refers to individuals’ practical efforts to identify needs within one’s neighbourhood or local area and take the initiative to address them. There is a significantly small number of young people who are well-educated and employed and have access to social institutions that allow them the agency to be active citizens. An even smaller number of young people are trying to make opportunities for themselves through entrepreneurship and micro-businesses as a means of surviving unemployment, outside of state support. The conditions faced by many young South Africans have led them to not trust that the government has their best interests at heart. Many young people take matters into their own hands, by taking chances at entrepreneurship and starting their own businesses. Others take to the streets to protest against the lack of service delivery.

The expectation placed on young people to obtain independent adulthood has material implications for them as citizens. It means that they need access to resources to meet these social expectations. Employment as a means through which citizens participate in the economy is central to the transition from youth into independent adulthood, which is expected of every young person. Employment and education are important civic means for young people to enact their citizenship and participate in the economy and democratic state affairs, and these are opportunities that are becoming increasingly difficult for young people to access.

South Africa does have a strong history of active citizenship, and our young democracy is a testament to that, but active citizenship — which refers to the act of being a citizen — ought to be investigated holistically, with the act and the actor in mind. The conditions that allow for the act to occur are part and parcel of co-creating the act. In their book Acts of Citizenship, Engin Isin and Greg Nielsen write that acts of citizenship need to be interpreted through their surroundings and consequences, including how subjects become inactive, activists or active citizens, through the conditions that are created around them. The difference between active and activist citizens is that the active citizen acts out already written scripts, while an activist citizen is creative and thinks beyond the laws about justice. According to Isin and Nielsen, acts of citizenship, at their heart, do not have to be founded by the law or enacted in the name of the law, and they are bound to produce actors who become answerable to justice against injustice.

The concept of active citizenship has evolved, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which limited traditional forms of outreach. The report emphasises a shift towards localised assistance, with individuals focusing on supporting their immediate communities rather than distant areas. Despite the fragmentation, active citizenship efforts have intensified. This change has created stronger connections and support networks at the grassroots level, fostering a sense of collective responsibility and empowerment. The quality of active citizenship is measured by individual participation and the exercise of political, social and civil rights in line with democratic values. South Africans are demonstrating a strong commitment to active citizenship, independent of government, with a focus on community activities and well-planned cooperation regarding protests and improving their living conditions. 

This State of the Nation Report comes in the context of increasing disillusionment with the work of the government. Brand South Africa Research Manager Shamiso Hlatswayo says: “The purpose and hope of the report is to give an honest reflection of what people on the ground are feeling, in order to respond and serve their needs. What we want to do with this report is give the whole story, because most of what we see as ‘news’ about South Africa is negative stories, and we want to move from the negative to the whole story without dismissing our challenges, but rather seeing our challenges as opportunities, and creating conversations around what a blueprint for the future looks like.”


State of the Nation Report: Insights into the country’s brand reputation 

In the ever-evolving landscape of nation branding and reputation management, research plays a pivotal role in shaping strategies and positioning a country on the global stage. Brand South Africa, as a leading authority in promoting the nation’s brand image, has undertaken extensive domestic and international research efforts to gauge the performance and perceptions of the Nation Brand. 

The State of the Nation Report unveils the culmination of Brand South Africa’s research endeavours. This comprehensive report offers valuable insights into the nation’s reputation, competitiveness, and domestic and international perceptions. This newspaper supplement serves as a window into the extensive research conducted by Brand South Africa. It aims to empower readers with knowledge and understanding of the factors influencing the Nation Brand’s trajectory in an increasingly competitive and uncertain global economy. 

Global Reputation Study 

Internationally, Brand South Africa’s commitment to research extends to understanding and enhancing the country’s competitiveness and reputation on the global stage. One of the key research initiatives undertaken is the Global Reputation Study conducted in partnership with Bloom Consulting. With a vast sample size of approximately 10,000 participants from 13 countries, ranging from travellers to investors, this comprehensive study aimed to gauge the perception of South Africa among diverse global audiences. 

The study focused on measuring the competitiveness and appeal of the Nation Brand in key international markets, including the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, France, China, Japan, India, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Additionally, South Africa’s performance was evaluated in comparison to nine competitor countries, namely Nigeria, Egypt, Vietnam, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Chile, Brazil, and the United Kingdom.

To assess the country’s standing, a range of indicators were used, including Tourism, Talent, Prominence, Exports, and Investment. These indicators provide a comprehensive understanding of how South Africa fares in crucial areas that shape its international reputation and competitiveness.

 Research Highlights 

  • South Africa is one of the most prosperous Nation Brands offering outstanding experience in Trade, Talent, and Tourism brand dimensions. 
  • Overall perceptions of the country improve as individuals become more familiarized with it.
  • International audiences rate the country among the Top 5 places to visit, invest or do business, and relocate. 
  • South Africa’s Trade is perceived to be as strong as the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Thailand, and Brazil. Investors and businesspeople who are familiar with the country rate their experience with South Africa as outstanding, placing it in the Top 3 alongside the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.
  • International Talents have a great experience in South Africa, making it the second preferred destination for workers, ahead of Thailand and Brazil. Students rate their experience with the country as good as with Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, which are known for their long history of talent attraction.
  • South Africa’s strongest dimensions are Export and Tourism in terms of perceptions and appeal with up to 70% of respondents willing to visit or do business with the country. South Africa makes the Top 5 travel destinations, along with strong nation brands such as Turkey, Egypt, and Thailand.   
  • Tourism is slowly recovering with ups and downs, up to 75% of tourists would love to visit South Africa attracted by its diverse Nature, Wildlife, Culture and Climate.
  • South Africa’s trade is perceived to be as strong as that of the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Thailand, and Brazil. Investors and businesspeople who are familiar with the country rate their experience with South Africa as outstanding, positioning it among the top three countries along with the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.

Domestic Perceptions Research Programme

Brand South Africa recognises the significance of citizen perspectives and actively engages with them through the Domestic Perceptions Research Programme. The Domestic Perceptions Research Programme was conducted over a period of 6 years in collaboration with MarkData (Pty.) Ltd. Through this report, Brand South Africa aims to contribute meaningfully to the understanding of nation branding as a comprehensive concept in both marketing and academia, locally and globally. This is achieved through surveys and assessments that focus on three crucial pillars: national pride, active citizenship, and social cohesion.

National Pride

National pride encompasses attitudes towards one’s country, its achievements, and national identity, reflecting the overall sentiment towards the nation. It includes feelings of accomplishment and a sense of connection to national symbols. National pride can be measured by the extent to which individuals feel proud of their country. In psychology, there are two recognised facets of pride: authentic pride, which is rooted in confidence and accomplishment, and hubristic pride, which is characterised by negative traits such as narcissism and neuroticism. Both facets can be observed in different instances of national pride.

 The predominant element of national pride is the spirit of being South African, which overwhelmingly resonates with individuals, accounting for 95% of the perception of national pride. The remaining three aspects focus on trade, achievements, and sports, representing specific dimensions related to national pride.

  1. Pride is motivated by the spirit of being South African: Ubuntu, diversity, innovation, possibility, and a uniqueness that is unmatched (yellow circle). 
  2. South Africa is recommended as a place to work, travel, study and invest. Although less specific, it remains optimistic (purple circle).
  3. South Africa’s achievements, socially, politically, and economically both locally and internationally as a diverse nation (red circle).
  4. South Africa is a place of great sport, arts, and science talent with beautiful natural spaces. There are concerns but these are proud moments (green circle).  

Active Citizenship

Active citizenship encompasses individual participation in societal activities and the exercise of political, social, and civil rights. It involves engaging with politics, civil society, and communities based on democratic values. This participation includes both vertical relationships (with the state) and horizontal relationships (among citizens). Active citizenship is characterised by mutual respect, nonviolence, and adherence to human rights and democracy. It plays a crucial role in sustaining democracy and ensuring effective representation.

Over the past six years, South Africans have responded to evolving trends. Beginning in 2017 with a strong conviction to help, this commitment has grown into a positive and resolute determination to benefit the collective, independent of government. As we examine the list of attributes, we notice that the smaller the cluster, the more delicate it becomes. The smallest cluster represents small groups confronting challenging circumstances, where individuals unite to provide support to one another. This stands as a testament to the resilience and compassion of South Africans, who face daily hardships while maintaining unwavering dedication to assisting each other in any way possible. It sheds light on the realities and conditions experienced by many South Africans and highlights the unbreakable spirit of unity and support that thrives within our society.

Social Cohesion

Perceptions of national identity, whether individual or group-oriented, are crucial for social capital and bonds between people. Social cohesion is the degree of cooperation and integration within communities, encompassing mutual solidarity and inclusion. It can be categorised as horizontal (between individuals) and vertical (between individuals and the state). 

  1. Confident in government services, processes, and the political system. Recognising opportunities but may feel discriminated against (yellow circle) 
  2. Vertical cohesion linked to public and social systems and structures. Value education, social security, and healthcare (purple circle).
  3. Horizontal cohesion, feeling close to others, a sense of belonging and embrace diversity. Social rather than structural connection (red circle).
  4. Aware of and often discuss inequality and the limited opportunities available to others (green circle)

The Domestic Perceptions study through the three key pillars of National Pride, Active Citizenship and Social Cohesion revealed that South Africans highly value the freedom and democratic principles that have been achieved through hard work, dedication, resilience, and strength of character across the country. Despite facing numerous challenges, there is a strong sense of mutual care, empathy, and tolerance for our diverse backgrounds. We appreciate our cultures and heritage and share a collective identity as South Africans. Motivated by the desire to uphold these values, we are committed to sustaining social and economic systems that benefit everyone, including those who may feel disconnected from the remarkable diversity of our nation.

Behavioural Associations to being South African

Behavioural associations (groups or clusters) of what it means to be a South African were developed based on all 2 500 data points. The behavioural associations illustrate where the South African population coalesce around common views. 

The eight associations (previously 10) highlight the relationships between the idea of a nation and the people within it. The expressions describe social, behavioural and psychological formations in the South African population. 

Although the groups cluster in unique ways around traits of national pride, active citizenship and social cohesion, they are not defined in these terms, but rather as unique and coherent social formations with shared perceptions of the individual’s relationship to the state and other South Africans.

  1. Proud Character Supporters: Share a deep-seated appreciation of what it means to be South African. They value innovation, Ubuntu, diversity and democracy. They are loyal to the country in ways outside of government systems and structures. Their anchor lies in the characteristics of being a South African. The cheerleaders of the nation.
  2. Positive Enablers: They remain committed to making South Africa a better place. Their involvement is characterised by a humanitarian outlook. Despite Covid-19, their commitment remains strong.
  3. Uncritical Loyalists: Are loyal to government systems and structures. They are particularly pleased with the judicial system, law and order as well as the role of the Public Protector. They are typified by their recognition of authority, respect for it, and their low level of activism.
  4. Activist Supporters: As the largest group, they feel discriminated against, experience inequality and find themselves trapped in a cycle of dependence and wanting to be independent from government. Many in the group are employed, but their frustration with conditions for all oscillate between protest action and reluctance to participate.
  5. Cautious Optimists: They have limited anchor points of what it means to be a South African, and their commitment to the country is focussed outward, to the global community.
  6. Proud Democrats: Made a significant return to the behavioural group dynamics last year. They were in last place for the past two years. They value the ability to vote and the democratic right to express support for the leaders whom they associate with. They are proud of the right to speak out, and advocate democracy’s importance.
  7. Politically Discontented: They display a strong sense of disenfranchisement and animosity towards South Africa’s broader political and social structures. Members of the group experience a sense of discrimination, and their perceptions of poor media objectivity and political discussion tend to confirm their sense of disenfranchisement.
  8. Celebrators of Achievement: Are characterised by their overt recognition of achievement by South Africa and South Africans over a wide range of attributes and features, including natural beauty. The frontline heroes during Covid-19 were most recognised by this group. 


Unveiling the power of the Nation Brand: Transforming perceptions and shaping the future


Nation Brand Forum (NBF)

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Launched in 2016, the Nation Brand Forum (NBF) is Brand South Africa’s flagship annual forum to mobilise, engage and collaborate with diverse stakeholders to shape a coherent agenda for a compelling nation brand image, reputation, and competitiveness. 

The 6th Nation Brand Forum themed, “Grow with South Africa: An inclusive partnership to rebuild the economy and drive the nation’s competitiveness” was launched in 2022 to facilitate collaborative partnerships and solutions aimed at re-building the economy and positioning South Africa as an attractive investment destination. The Forum brought together diverse stakeholders to formulate strategic socio-economic solutions to rebuild the South African economy, create jobs, alleviate inequality and poverty, and strengthen the nation brand’s reputation and competitiveness.

The next Nation Brand Forum will be taking place in October 2023. 

Play Your Part

Play Your Part is a nationwide initiative created to inspire, empower, and celebrate active citizenship in South Africa. The programme aims to lift the spirit of our nation by inspiring all South Africans to contribute to positive change, become involved and respond to the call to action in various sectors including business, government, non-governmental organisations, and South African citizens at large.

The programme has been pivotal in creating a socially inclusive society by inspiring citizens from all corners of South Africa to contribute towards a positive change, regardless of their demographics, age, social standards etc. The on-going spirit of collaboration has played a significant role in keeping the Play Your Part programme alive through touching lives.  

Constitutional awareness

South Africa’s Constitution is hailed as one of the most advanced liberal documents in the world. With the Constitution being the legal foundation for the existence of the Republic and celebrated democracy, the rights enshrined within the document have played a significant role in the development of the country as a young democratic state. 

Among various organisations tasked with amplifying and showcasing the importance of the Constitution, Brand South Africa is identified in the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) as a delivery partner of Outcome 14 (Social Cohesion) with the mandate to promote the awareness of the Constitution. 

The main objective of the programme is to use the awareness promotion through activation that target various stakeholders. Furthermore, the programme highlights manifestations that popularise the Constitution as a tool that encourages active citizenship among South Africans. 

Targeted mostly at schools, the programme creates a platform for Brand South Africa to emphasise the importance of young people knowing their rights and understanding what the country’s Constitution has to offer. 

Grow With South Africa  

South Africa remains the most industrialised nation in the African continent, and a gateway to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the continent. The initiative behind “Grow With South Africa” is to demonstrate the country is an attractive and competitive investment growth destination.

South Africa prides itself in being the preferred location for multinational investors in Africa. The country’s unique value proposition makes it an attractive destination for numerous investors and industries. 

The country is not only a resource rich economy with access to both a vibrant local market and a growing regional market but also a financial, technical and innovation hub attracting companies looking to tap the country’s talent pool. 

Nation Brand Masterclass

As custodians of the Nation Brand, Brand South Africa aims to empower and guide key stakeholders with the nuances of cohesively communicating a Nation Brand on multiple platforms.

The Brand South Africa Master Class on the Nation Brand is a formal framework of equipping strategic stakeholders who are “flag carriers” in their own right, from the public as well as the private sectors, with the necessary skills to profile the unique features of the South African Nation Brand. The key outcome of Master Class training sessions is the commitment of stakeholders to aligning their entities’ marketing and communications initiatives (in terms of Nation Brand corporate identity, as well as messaging) to those of Brand South Africa.

Global South African Network

The Global South African Network (GSA) is an initiative launched by Brand South Africa to harness the power and influence of South Africans living abroad. GSA recognises these individuals as invaluable resources in positioning South Africa as a global player in the modern world. South Africa’s journey from overcoming stereotypes to hosting significant events and achieving sporting triumphs has demonstrated its potential on the international stage. As members of the GSA network, South Africans abroad become brand ambassadors, representing their country, and showcasing its strengths to the world. By joining GSA, they commit to promoting South Africa as an attractive investment destination and collaborating on creative solutions to global challenges. The network aims to foster an inclusive economy and build a socially cohesive nation. 

Brand South Africa calls upon South Africans living abroad to join the movement and make a difference. Together, let’s build an inclusive society, foster economic growth, and create opportunities for all. Visit www.brandsouthafrica.com to get involved and shape our nation’s future. 

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