By Steuart Pennington



I was privileged to be a virtual attendee at the National Brand Forum convened by Brand South Africa on 28 September. It was an all-day affair, nevertheless there were a number of significant learnings which I will highlight below.


Introduced by Thandi Thobias Chair of BrandSA the conference centred round the steps South Africa intends to take to improve and enhance its international image with the theme of “Reflect, Rebuild, Reassure”


Simon Anholt a globally respected country brands consultant and the convenor of the ‘Ipsos National Brands Index’ and the ‘Good Country Index’ (see details below) made some critically important points:


“A positive image of a country is of fundamental importance, people admire some countries more than others because they are glad the country exists….the manner in which it contributes to their lives… the good it does in the world. This image is affected by the ‘mood of humanity’ underpinned by four pillars:

  • Do, don’t tell – actions, not words
  • Focus on what you are going to do, not what you have done
  • Empahsise the relevance of your deeds globally
  • Aim at entrepreneurial multilateralism – teaming up with other countries


Simon posed the question ‘do people like SA and do they want to like SA?’


He spoke of three practical steps to achieve this.


Govt. Policy Formulation

Rather than have a stand-alone government department solely responsible for national branding, what SA should do is have a nation branding expert in every government department advising on how policy formulation and reform will impact our national image and whether it will stand the test of being positively received by the “mood of the global community’. He cautioned against national branding campaigns and advised a clear focus on what policies we intend to implement as a country if we are to rise to the challenges of a rapidly changing world. Campaigns he argued, are more appropriate around specific issues such as tourism, culture and investment.



In conjunction with many of the panelists the issue of infrastructural development, reliability and consistency was considered as a major element of nation branding. Pointing out that very few people are interested in the domestic affairs of countries, but if they are to see the country’s image positively, a fundamental issue is the reliability of its infrastructure. A number of panelists pointed out that the deteriorating infrastructure is as a result of populism and political bragging with no substance ‘if municipal infrastructure is dysfunctional no development is possible and SMME development is nigh impossible’ added Prof. Mcebisi Ndletyana, University of Johannesburg



Many of the panelists pointed out the shortcomings of an overwhelmingly negative narrative, of the critical importance of news that enhances and builds an image encouraging the global community to like South Africa and want to like South Africa. Simon Anholt’s advice was consistent ‘you need a nation branding expert in the public broadcaster advising on the kind of PR that is needed to ‘show the world that we care, so that the world will care for us’. Again, many referred to the excellence of South Africa’s ‘plans’ juxtaposed against its inability to implement. ‘The world looks at what you do, not what you say you going to do’ Anhholt added.



Thandi Thobias Chair of BrandSA opened the conference by saying that the theme was for a candid discussion how we can build a positive and compelling brand image, the critical importance of giving life to the economic recovery plan so that we can meaningfully combat the challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality. Sithembile Ntombela Acting CEO of BrandSA explained the theme of the conference “Reflect, Rebuild, Reassure” and the fact that a series of high range panels had been convened to deal with each topic.


Personally I found the conference very stimulating, the panelists were highly articulate and very forthright in their criticisms. One anecdotal story, Prof. Bonang Mohale used the renaming of Port Elizabeth to Gqeberha as an example of poor ‘re-branding’ “for two years prior to the 2010 World Cup, Port Elizabeth branded itself as Nelson Mandela City, an enormous amount of money was spent, and clearly the name is iconic, one which all visitors to South Africa would identify with. To rename it Gqeberha was really just to spite Whites and European visitors – unpronounceable – and has no branding value whatsoever.” The point above regarding branding experts presence in every government department resonates!





The Good Country Index ranks 149 countries on (SA Scores in brackets): science and technology (26), culture (58), international peace and security (14), world order (20), planet in climate care (114), prosperity and equality (96), health and well-being (35). SA ranks 41/149.


The Ipsos National Brands Index measures 50 countries on: exports, governance, culture, people, tourism, immigration, investment. 2021 Report not available