Now that the regrettable diplomatic storm baked recently by a member of the executive council in Limpopo has almost subsided, let me reflect on the brand essence – as eloquently enshrined in its pay-offline – of South Africa’s northernmost province. I hold this province dear to my heart not just because my forebears – a clan of “Bakwena ba batlase” – in the 19th century took refuge in an area that we today call the Waterberg district as I have eloquently elucidated on this matter in my latest book, “De/constructing brand Africa: A Practitioner’s Perspective”, but primarily because I was a custodian of the brand positioning statement of this province which has been in use since 2005: used by four administrations led by five premiers, namely, Sello Moloto, Dickson Masemola, Cassel Mathale and Stan Mathabathe. Let me hasten to, in dispelling the “one-person-Rambo-army” myth, indicate I was blessed with an exceptional team in the Provincial Communication Services in the Office of the Premier with which we forged and shared a common vision which was duly endorsed by the provincial executive council – a critical condition for every successful brand effort: a buy-in from your principals. I’m raising the debacle of the recent diplomatic faux pas not to open old wounds, but as an impassioned plea for our leaders – be they in the public, private or civil society sectors – to live their brand, to not only walk their brand talk but also to talk their brand walk.

It was this year, 2005, when after joining the Limpopo Provincial Government as a General Manager: Provincial Communication Services in the Office of the Premier, I decided to brand reposition the province from “Africa’s garden of Eden” to the “heartland of southern Africa – (where) development is about people”. This positioning sought to pay homage to the 11th century Mapungubwe kingdom, that centralised trade in the entire southern Africa – from Namibia in the west; the Capes in the south; the north of today’s Zimbabwe and south of Zambia; to Mozambique in the east. This pay-offline amplified the geographic location of the province which shares borders with a number of SADC member states and it is the primary gateway – in terms of rail and road – into the rest of the continent – in addition to the provincial capital also hosting the under-utilised Polokwane International Airport which could be used as a sub-regional air cargo hub. The province went further during the mid-2000s to strengthen its bilateral relations with Zimbabwe’s Matebeleland province; Mozambique’s Gaza Province; and the then Trade and Investment Limpopo (TIL) forged strategic relations with the Botswana Export Development and Investment Agency (BEDIA) and Swaziland Investment Promotion Agency (SIPA). TIL also participated in the annual craft market in Namibia’s  Ongwediva Annual Trade Fair which provided export opportunities for Limpopo’s art and craft producers.

The sub-regional repositioning also tapped into the regionalisation effort as per the prescripts of the New Econonic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and now in the constitutive acts of the African Union (AU) – as rebranded in 2002 from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) which was established in 1963 in Ethiopia. Regionalisation speaks to economic integration – whose core includes cultural integration. To amplify this key messaging further, the AU declared 2021 as “The year of the arts, culture and heritage”.  This should be considered mindful of the consideration that the South African public service architecture has positioned arts, culture and sport within the economic cluster and not the social – thereby emphasising this sector as an economic imperative that has to contribute to the livelihoods of artists and cultural workers while at the same time boosting the country’s growth domestic product (GDP). 

That positioning of Limpopo as “the heartland of southern Africa” remains, as I’ve indicated in my opening salvo, the brand mantra of this province to this day. It’s as if it was prophetic as it has now gained traction and remains relevant as ever. Though I’m a practitioner of the science of dialectics, perhaps the use of the adjective “prophetic” is appropriate for Limpopo considering that the province houses the Zion Christian Church, one of – if not – the biggest church/es in Africa. Yes, the brand mantra has to be visionary, to make it palatable to the uninitiated. Absolutely, it was. The current economic developments in the province are a testimony to this. The province is the home to the gigantic Medupi Power Station – which easily qualifies the province as the energy capital of the country. The construction of the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone (MMSEZ) which is envisaged to become the beneficiation and supply hub for Africa north of the Limpopo river; and the Fetakgomo Special Economic Zone (FSEZ) will be for the eastern part of the SADC region – serving Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Indeed, this will entrench brand Limpopo as it will “live its brand”. 

One of the cardinal principles of South Africa’s foreign policy is people-to-people contact. While the African Union’s Agenda 2063 calls for the free movement of people – obviously within the confines of our countries’ laws as we march towards the eventual full integration – I believe we have to utilise our culture as a tool for integration. So, premised on its current brand positioning (mindful of immigration being a national competence), Limpopo should establish a cultural programme to entrench its positioning as a regional hub – both economically and socially. This programme – as the province’s cultural diplomacy arsenal – will absolutely help entrench brand Limpopo as a viable destination for tourism and investment while at the same time helping to open market access opportunities in the SADC region for “Made in Limpopo” service and product brands. This programme should be fully resourced to grow into a truly sub-regional cultural platform which will feature prominently on the international cultural calendar. It has to develop into a best cultural brand in southern Africa by featuring world renowned artists while also offering developmental opportunities to the emerging Limpopo cultural workers. Entrenching it as a brand means it will use both traditional mainstream and social media platforms to mount concerted promotional campaigns to ensure its reach is national, continental and global.

The ultimate outcome will be sub-regional social cohesion in pursuit of our continental integration. 

The vision of the programme should be to entrench brand Limpopo positioning as southern Africa’s mecca of cultural industries which are drivers of economic development through tourism, trade and investment promotion.

The objectives of the programme may be tabulated as follows:

  • To develop the arts and culture sector as part major contributors to the provincial growth geographic product (GGP);
  • Contribute to the developmental trajectory of Limpopo’s arts and culture sector by also affirming emerging cultural workers;  
  • Brand position Limpopo as a viable destination for tourism by increasing arrivals into the province;
  • Brand position Limpopo as a sub-regional hub for investment and beneficiation – within the context of the two special economic zones in the province;
  • To facilitate cultural integration in southern Africa by promoting people-to-people contact – one of the cardinal principles of South Africa’s foreign policy;
  • Strengthen bilateral relations with SADC member states through the International and Inter-Governmental Relations Unit in the Office of the Premier. 

“Show me the value!” I hear you my dearest reader saying. The technical measurement criteria for these SMART objectives will include the number of participants (including emerging artists) and audiences (tickets sold) in the programmes; economic spin-offs (percentage increase in accommodation bookings; percentage increase in sales of consumables); total cost of paid and non-paid media spaces secured (print, radio and tv); interactions on social media platforms (likes; reaches and comments); and many other measurement tools.

Africa’s march for integration is gradually gaining momentum. While SADC is lagging behind, with East African Community being the most integrated thus far, we have to commend Botswana and Namibia for having abolished passport requirements for their nationals travelling in-between the two countries. 43 countries have already ratified the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), this winning H.E. Wamkele Mene, the Secretary-General of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area public accolades from H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, by proclaiming on his Twitter handle, for  “the implementation of the AfCFTA, including key milestones such as the beginning of trade, the completion of key Agreement protocols and institutional capacity building of the AfCFTA Secretariat”; the Pan African Payment and Settlement System, a cross-border financial market infrastructure enabling payment transactions across Africa, is operational; Sokukuu, a platform enabling traders to conduct cross-border trade using ICT as a tool to minimize physical barriers, is in place; and many other positive integration initiatives undertaken on the continent.

By the way, as I was working on this commentary, I was listening to inspirational seamless collaborations between Ringo Madlingozi and Oliver Mtukudzi (“Into Yam”); Shabalala Rhythm and Oliver Mtukudzi (“Siyana Naye”); and Namibia’s Suzie Eises featuring DJ Maphorisa (“Only you”). And my 16 year old son, an emerging hip hop artist whose stage name is “Maedei”, was blurring from his bedroom rap collaborations between South African and Nigerian musicians such as “Tchelete” by Davido & Mafikizolo; “All For Love” by Wizkid & Bucie; “All Eyes On Me” by AKA and Burna Boy and Da Les & JR; “Said” by Runtown and Nasty C.; “Mountain” by Waje and Lira; “Coolest Kid in Africa” by Davido and  Nasty C.; “Soweto Baby” by DJ Buckz and Wizkid and DJ Maphorisa. Courtesy of my earphones, my soul could be fed what I enjoyed most in the comfort of my home office. Come dinner time, we will both indulge in the aesthetics of African music and culture. Culture is the best way for me to teach him about the virtues of our continent.

Walala wa sala”, as we say here at home, you snooze, you lose!

Enjoy your weekend.

Saul Molobi (FCIM)

PublisherJambo Africa Online
Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer: Brandhill Africa™

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