One step forward, two steps back…” This is the title of a book published by Vladimir Lenin in 1904. I have adopted poetic licence in adapting its subtitle, “The Crisis in our Party”, to refer to the crisis brand South Africa has recently been cast into by the mass looting of businesses in two key provinces. A comrade and friend at one one of the coalfaces of investment promotion, a diplomatic mission, aggrievedly concluded in response to the crisis in one of our WhatsApp groups: “brand South Africa is over.”

It’s a déjà vu for most of us as brand architects in the country who cherish the reputation of our country. In 2010 during the hosting of the most prestigious world soccer spectacle, FIFA World Cup, by South Africa, on behalf of the continent as it was for the first time Africa winning the right to stage this ultimate world soccer festival, the country and the continent’s brand equities skyrocketed as the success of the event proved naysayers embarrassingly wrong – and the event to this day remains the most successful, even in terms of its profitability too, in the history of this world soccer tournament.

Thebe Ikalafeng’s Brand Leadership Group launched their annual Brand Africa Top 100 Most Admired Brands in 2010. The findings showed 34% were homegrown. Africa was, to borrow the Economist’s coinage, “on the rise.” This resonated with the mantra crafted by the Local Organising Committee of the FIFA World Cup, “This is time for Africa”, which was broadcast in each and every home across the world as the American musical sensation, Shakira, revived a song, Waka Waka, from the continent’s cultural treasure trove to be the signature piece of this installment of the world’s soccer jamboree. The original version of the song, “Zangaléwa (Waka Waka)” was a 1986 hit song sung by a Cameroonian makossa group named Golden Sounds and it first got Internatoinal acclaim in 1994 when it was included in the score of the movie franchise, “The Lion King”.

(This enhanced brand Africa equity also inspired the launch of Africa Your Time Is Now™ fashion movement which was launched by Papama Mtwisha later in 2017 – yes, enjoying the little that still remained.)

While in 2010 we were gloating in the triumphal glory of our mammoth achievement which launched the 21st century as what former President Thabo Mbeki and his New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) co-architects – former President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria – had declared “Africa’s century” which sought to positively redefine brand Africa in the minds of consumers across the world, a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions struck. This reminded me of the regret by that English bard, William Shakespeare, in “Othello”: “Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial…”

The public sector unions in the country resolved immediately after the World Cup celebrations to embark on strike over the wage dispute. From the celebratory images beamed across the world during the World Cup, the world witnessed in horror thousands of patients left unattended in hospitals, municipal striking workers trashing streets, houses of scab labourers torched, and lawlessness ruling supreme in our country. This immediately destroyed the reputation of our country and the continent across the world. 

It takes years and investment of more than sufficient resources to build a reputation, but it takes very little to destroy it. For example, by merely declaring African nations and Haiti were “sh*t hole countries”, President Donald Trump, according to the research conducted by the University of Southern California’s Public Diplomacy Institute, took brand Africa back by over 100 years – yes to 1899 when Joseph Conrad dubbed it “a dark continent” in his seminal work, “The heart of darkness”. Now imagine what the message of scenes of patients on their dying hospital beds unattended to will communicate to the world.

Then fast track to last week in 2021. As the world celebrated with us the supremacy of our constitutional democracy that values separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial arms of the state, and as we further entrenched the legacy of Nelson Mandela when he declared: “Nobody is above the law” (by respecting a subpoena to appear in court after Louis Luyt hauled him before the courts), we decided to inflict a scathing reputational damage on brand South Africa which was beginning to enhance its equity from 2018 as it endeavored to entrench the rule of law; rejuvenating the economy by setting an ambitious strategic target to mobilise investments worth $100 during a five year period in order to reverse the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

This five-year target for investments remain a pipe dream because of the latest incidents of violence. Although investors respect everyone’s right to a peaceful protest, they detest violence and also value protection of private property. Last week I wrote about infrastructure projects in Mozambique for which we were mobilising foreign funding and are now iced because investors feel insecure because of the violence that has erupted in Capo Delgado. Yes, I commend our Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) for developing such brilliant briefing notes for our emissaries but it will take years for us to regain investor confidence.

We have inflicted reputational damage on brand South Africa last week by embarking on a spree of looting businesses in two provinces. The crisis in these two provinces is worrying, to say the least, because Gauteng City Region (GCR) contributes over 35% to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) while the KwaZulu Natal Province is the third biggest contributor at 14% after the Western Cape (which contributes 16%). Indeed, it doesn’t require one to be an economist to know how this will impact on the six smaller provinces whose percentage contributions to the GDP is much smaller than of the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality in the GCR which is at 10%.

I wouldn’t enter the conspiracy fray because the consequential reputational damage remains the same. Although we welcome President Cyril Ramaphosa’s admission that our security establishment wasn’t ready for the carnage and illegality that befell us last week, the events brought back to memory three incidents of major national security breaches in our nascent democracy: the corrupt relationship between the National Commissioner for SAPS and a shady character believed to be a drug kingpin; the wife to the Minister for State Security being convicted of illicit drug dealing; and the alleged recommendation for appointment of cabinet ministers by a family that received permanent residency in South Africa in dubious circumstances.     

Those who know me will testify to the eternity of my hope even when, biblically, I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Though the task of re-engineering brand South Africa is a Kilimanjaro mountain to climb, I’m confident with all hands on deck, “we shall overcome” – as I imagine the sweet melodies of the African-American slaves in the midst of the worst injustices inspiring hope that those challenge would come to pass.

I have been inspired by countless number of South Africans coming together, folding their sleeves and cleaning the mess left behind by the looters. Some members of the Soweto community went to an extent of protecting as volunteer security guards the Maponya Mall (built by the legendary township entrepreneur, the late Richard Maponya; and officially opened by former President Nelson Mandela, his friend and comrade for many years) from vandalism. 

Yesterday I also had the privilege of being featured by Masingita Masunga as a panelist at a virtual cultural dialogue she convened – moderated by an affable seasoned broadcaster and author, Thabiso Sikwane; featuring author and traveller, Lerato Mogatlhe; and creator and publisher, Thando Mgqolozana. As we de/constructed a post-modernist pan-African identity in this event aptly titled, “The healing power of words”,  I evoked the prophetic words of Ben Okri that should serve as our reservoir of inspiration: “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.”

In redressing the economic mayhem arising from the recent unfortunate events – yes which bordered on economic sabotage and espionage (beyond lunacy) because I don’t see any benefit deriving from ransacking the storerooms of the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) in redressing poverty because that can only suggest one pushes for the state incapacity to provide blood in case the protests turned bloody (excuse the pun) – we need to revisit our spatial planning: a sea of rural underdevelopment between the two developmental nodes of industrial (and service) hubs in the cities and our points of entry/exit which are border gates, airports and harbours. So torching of trucks and blockages of N2 and N3 by villagers are just symptoms of an underlying problems. Remember the science of dialectics teaches us about cause and effect.

Rural development is key. Besides uplifting the standard of living of our communities, it will help to curb exodus from rural areas into the cities thus resulting in the mushrooming of unsustainable informal settlements. Brandhill Africa (Pty) Ltd, which has seen the World Branding Council bestowing upon it the Brand Leadership Award yesterday on 15 July 2021 (click this link for the video of award ceremony,, has developed a framework aptly called the Brand Index for Rural Development (the BIRD) based on a set of key variables critical in communicating the essence of rural development.

The Brand Index for Rural Development (the BIRD) framework

Before I provide the model (which constituted the last chapter of my research report on the impact of the FIFA World Cup on the brand equity of Polokwane as a host city  which was in partial fulfillment for the requirement of a Post-Graduate Diploma at the IMM Graduate School of Marketing in 2012), let me emphasise that the communication has to be simple without being simplistic and condescending or patronising. In this I’m inspired by the Mozambican revolutionary poet, Jorge Rebelo, who mused: ‘forge simple words/ which even the children can understand/ words which will enter/ every house/ like the wind/ and fall like red hot embers/ on our people’s souls…/ In our land/ Bullets are beginning to flower.”

The following is the synopsis of the BIRD framework (it’s published in detail in  ( Except for the ICON model developed by Keith Dinnie, all other current brand management tools such as the Nation Brand Index (NBI) developed by Simon Anholt, are more appropriate to urban or metropolitan cities such as Johannesburg, New York and London. The NBI looks at variables such as ‘people’, ‘culture & heritage’, ‘tourism’, ‘exports’, ‘investment & immigration’, and ‘governance’. Our assessment proves that if you can compare and contrast a rural town from a metropolitan town, the latter will always score high even though there could be more and more positive attributes associated with the former.

Brandhill Africa (Pty) Ltd has taken the liberty to redress these inadequacies by introducing a brand development model that it has, as indicated earlier, named it the Brand Index for Rural Development” (the BIRD). It borrows Simon Anholt’s variables (`people’, `exports’ and `investments”) as a base, but then goes further to include the following: “competitiveness”; “productivity”; “innovation”; “technology”; and “human capital”. These could be diagrammatically presented as a series of cyclical, integrated and interdependent variables as follows:

  • People

Though these are not really problematic issues in metropolitan cities, nutritional status of children, mortality rate for under five year-olds, life expectancy at birth, percentage of population with adequate sewage disposal facilities, percentage of population with access to safe drinking water, percentage of population with access to primary health care, immunisation against infectious childhood diseases, and contraceptive prevalence rate. Also of critical significance are the interracial, intertribal and gender relations that determine the extent to which a community has developed. Coupled with these, is the issue of xenophobia. We also look at the number of recorded crimes per 100 000 population.

  • Exports

There are many small scale manufacturers in rural towns. Country’s economies are driven by agriculture, which is the cornerstone of rural towns. Though we look at the rate of increased exports by rural towns, we also need to look at the rate at which beneficiation takes place locally. 

  • Investments

This relates to increased investments, including specifically domestic & FDI. Rural towns are constantly struggling to retain skills, technical expertise and businesses. As we speak, many businesses that were started by Limpopo’s former political heavyweights and business stalwarts, as an example, are headquartered, and even have fully relocated, to Gauteng’s metropolitan cities of Tshwane and Johannesburg. The challenge is always how to contain this exodus? 

Unlike in other countries such as Italy’s Reggio Emilia where one of the world’s fashion conglomerate, Max Mara, was established and still headquartered there, companies set up by luminaries in rural provinces migrate to metropolitan cities – such as Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban – as soon as they exhibit signs of success. This exodus from the rural areas deny them an opportunity to grow. This phenomenon is best illustrated by Chika Onyeani, who argues in his nominal book, “The Capitalist Nigger”: “Indians have created a virtual economy in the communities they live. When a dollar comes into the community, because of their spider-web mentality, that dollar does not leave the community. They reinvest by buying from other Indians…” Yes, I witness this everyday in my Jewish neighbourbood of Norwood, Johannesburg, where a deliberate is made to ensure businesses on Grant Avenue aren’t owned by Africans – just last year, a thriving business, Ndawo Yummy at The Factory, was forced to close down due to the landlord’s reluctance to renew the lease because, according to the restaurateur, “his business attracted the wrong crowd”.

  • Competitiveness 

Though this variable cuts across all the eight variables considered, we critically look at improvements in competitiveness of a rural town or city by measuring the GGDP per capita, investment share in GGDP, balance of trade in goods and services and debt to GGNP ratio.

  • Productivity

One may comfortably argue that competitiveness and productivity are two sides of the same coin, but I have decided to keep them as two focal areas of measurement. We assess the rural town or city’s improvements in productivity, arable and permanent crop land area, use of fertilizers, use of agricultural pesticides, forest area as a percentage of land area, wood harvesting intensity, and land affected by dissertation.

  • Innovation

If competitiveness and productivity are two sides of the same coin, then innovation is this coin’s edge. In this instance, we look at the intensity of material use, annual energy consumption per capita, share of consumption of renewal energy resources, generation of industrial and municipal solid waste, generation of hazardous waste, management of radio active waste, waste recycling and re-use, and distance traveled per capita by mode of transport.

  • Technology 

Here we are looking at better technological progress – which includes accessibility and usage. We measure the number of internet subscribers per 1000 inhabitants, main telephone lines per 1000 inhabitants, expenditure on research and development as a percentage of GGDP, and economic and human loss due to disasters.

  • Human capital

This relates to the development and retention of higher levels and quality of skills and better human capital. We also look at children reaching grade 5 of primary education, adult secondary education achievement level, adult literacy rate, and the number of post-matric graduates. Rural towns are constantly struggling to retain skills and technical expertise. As if adding salt to the wound, rural towns further struggle to attract from urban cities the skills, technical expertise and businesses that migrated to the big cities. In some instances where they do succeed, the question is asked about stealth of jobs from the locals. Rural towns can’t forever remain training ground for urban cities. So each town has to be evaluated against their success in reversing this colonial problem.

If we can implement these eight variables with military precision, our people will indeed never see any reason to leave their rural homesteads for impoverishment in the cities as they will realise that not all that glitters is gold (pardon the analogy, Gauteng – though the truth is that Free Stare is the biggest producer of gold). We should convince ourselves that we will achieve this ideal as Rene Descartes says: “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am.)

I wish you all a fruitful and productive Nelson Mandela Day as we continue to live his legacy.

Saul Molobi




Twitter: @saulmolobi
Instagram: @saulmolobi


The Kindle version of Saul Molobi’s latest book, “Sound and Fury: The Chronicles of Healing“, is available on Amazon. The Foreword to the book was written by Kgalema Motlanthe, former President of the Republic of South Africa.