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Destroying a nation's brand from within

Dec 17 2014 07:03
Solly Moeng

(Shutterstock)

THERE comes a time in all societies when people look around and wonder why everyone seems to be staring strangely at them, as if they blame them for all the things going wrong, seemingly thinking that they might be complicit.

It is a point in the history of a nation when so much time has passed, so much has happened, yet people seem to forget where and how it all began.

It is a time of general “gatvolness”, when some get tired of the accusing fingers pointing into their faces while others, those whose fingers are doing the pointing, often struggle to remember the reasons for the finger pointing to begin with.

It is also a time when, trying to soar above it all, one realises that the sands have shifted in all directions, leaving some people entrenched where they have always been and others in strange, unfamiliar places, still trying to remember how they got there in the first place.

We South Africans are at such a juncture in the history of our nation 20 years into our democracy. The year 1994 was meant to offer us a historical tabula rasa; a point when we would all come to terms with the past, admit that it was what it was, and that it should never have been. A new slogan, “Rainbow Nation”, was born.

While it was a lovely PR concept that we successfully used to market our new democratic nation post-1994, it turned out to be an empty slogan with little substance to back it up. But we had to acknowledge that we had inherited a wounded and divided nation.

Instead, we took the biggest bandage painted in bright rainbow colours and wrapped it around all of us, hiding varying degrees of pain, hurt, confusion, anger, fear and festering wounds. As a nation, we were all complicit in acting the part, pretending that we were all one happy nation, especially when the cameras were on us.
 
Now 20 years down the line, Nelson Mandela is no more, the rainbow nation is in trouble, our current leadership is questionable and our credibility as a nation brand is being questioned. Where do we run to?

The many hands that came and held one another from all directions have since lost their grip and let go, leaving many to return to their ghettos, literal and figurative - cultural, racial, religious and ideological ghettos. We all claim to be right; yet we are all wrong.

We are all wrong because we have allowed ourselves to be blinded again by our many views, all shaped in our respective historical ghettos; ghettos of hatred, ghettos of prejudice, ghettos of fear, ghettos of blind denial about the reality of the other; about our own reality.

Looking back, the confluent that 1994 was meant to be was actually a big, busy, traffic intersection with malfunctioning traffic lights. The order that emerged from it held only for a short while before all hell broke loose.

Heroic figures blinded by greed

Former heroes and heroines had returned home with noble aims, then got blinded by the gold that glittered before them; a glitter that gradually blinded them even from the misery around them - the pain, the hunger, the thirst, and the wounds; the wounds that continued to fester in spite of it all.

Blinded by the glitter of the gold and thinking only of their own pockets, the heroes and the heroines have become spiteful, selfish and hungrier even as they got fatter.

Twenty years down the line, with the reins of our collective fate stuck in the hands of the same heroes and heroines of yesterday, we are trapped in darkness – euphemistically termed load shedding - because investment decisions that should have been taken years ago were avoided.

The lights that flashed, when they still could, were ignored. Now, the heroes and the heroines fight among themselves and listen to no one else.

Billions of rands that could have been invested into our shared future got diverted into fruitless and wasteful projects that benefit only a few. Strategic state-owned companies have been turned into ships without shipmasters and taxpayers have been reduced into nuisance noisemakers whose cries no longer make a difference in the eyes of the heroes and heroines of yesterday.

While all of this is happening, friends and potential friends of our nation – potential investors, tourists, and other supporters – all those who walked with us while we traversed our moral wilderness and others who want to join our walk, are perplexed, staring at what we have become as a national brand.

They worry that the reputational no man’s land our heroes and heroines have led us into might hit a point of no return if we do not take heed and change course fast.         

Our rainbow nation brand is in trouble!
                  
* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley. Views expressed are his own.

solly moeng  |  south africa  |  brand reputation
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