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Top defenders of democracy put heads together to lift SA's image

May 01 2018 05:45
Khulekani Magubane

Cape Town – Some of the most renowned defenders of modern-day South African democracy and foremost thinkers on politics and the economy will be in Cape Town from Thursday to Friday, with one major item on the agenda: giving South Africa’s regional and international image a much-needed face lift.

Constitutional Court Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela are just two of the speakers who will address delegates at the Brand Summit taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

Madonsela received international acclaim for her Secure in Comfort report in 2014, which stated that former president Jacob Zuma unduly benefited from state-funded security upgrades to his home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal. In the same year, Time Magazine named her one of its "100 Most Influential People In The World".

Her 2016 State of Capture report investigated copious amounts of evidence into the degree to which the private interests of the Gupta family influenced contracts of major state-owned enterprises and even ministerial appointments.

Mogoeng dealt a historical judgment in 2016 when he ruled that Zuma, a sitting president, violated his constitutionally mandated oath of office by refusing to follow Madonsela’s remedial action to repay a portion of the Nkandla costs.

The summit comes just months after President Cyril Ramaphosa replaced Zuma at the helm of the governing African National Congress, and later at the west wing of the Union Buildings.

While these developments have been met with much optimism in the investment community and the political arena, Solly Moeng, Brand Summit organiser and founder of DonValley Reputation Management in Cape Town, said the country has its work cut out to maintain - never mind improve - its image.

Moeng has had experience in managing the marketing of SA Tourism. He said that upon doing this as his first job, he understood there was an urgent need to be proactive about protecting South Africa's reputation, and not just rely on the diaspora.

“Countries are brands and brands need good leaders. Mandela had a talent for articulating a vision but we have failed to sustain that kind of brand management since.

"Leaders need a chance to stop and ask if they are on the right track, and leaders after Mandela did not have an opportunity to reflect on this in the way Mandela did,” said Moeng.

He said it is very easy for a negative reputation to permeate the international community about a country like South Africa.

The diaspora in the 1990s had mostly negative things to say about the country, but even that stance can be turned around if it is included in reputation renewal, he said.

“A brand is like an iceberg, in that there is a part of it on the surface like image and reputation. Then there is the bigger part of the iceberg which is submerged under the water, which in the case of brands includes values, the vision and the social culture of a nation,” Moeng said.

He said in the international arena South Africa’s reputation as a constitutional democracy suffered when it made decisions that flew in the face of its own supreme law.

South Africa has also failed to stand up to fellow African nations on the issue of LGBTI rights despite having recognised this part of society domestically for years, Moeng said.

These include failing to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during a 2015 visit, despite South Africa being a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Moeng has often expressed cautious optimism at the rise of Ramaphosa, saying that the president has a great deal of work to do in convincing South Africans ahead of next year’s elections that the party and government are serious about reversing the rot at state entities and departments.

Moeng said reputation management must not be considered a soft priority, as perceptions of government have far-reaching implications for tax morality, which almost immediately affects the state’s revenue collection and its ability to finance its programmes.

“One of the important things the Zuma years taught us is that our institutions, while strong, can be compromised and subverted.

"Improving South Africa’s reputation is about more than sharing the pie, but growing the pie. You cannot grow the pie without leadership that will draw investment and guarantee stability,” he said.

Other speakers at the Brand Summit include political analyst and author Ralph Mathekga, Clarity Editorial director Palesa Moduru, Business Leadership South Africa CEO Bonang Mohale and Woolworths chairperson Simon Susman.

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