Cape Town - There is still "a deep reservoir of goodwill" towards South Africa in the rest of the world, but it has been severely tested, according to Duke Malan of advisory firm HilburgMalan in Hong Kong.
"People want to see South Africa work. Over the last decade we have severely tested the reservoir of goodwill and it nearly ran dry, but we must build on the reservoir of goodwill that still exists," he said during a panel discussion at the recent Brand Summit South Africa in Cape Town.
"Since the election of President Cyril Ramaphosa people are asking me more about South Africa - for example, about how BEE works and what is happening in the mining sector. We have to create a context for people who know nothing about South Africa to understand the country."
He also thinks a national airline can play a role in creating an international brand for a country.
"We have to fix and leverage our national airline in South Africa. Look at what Ethiopian Airlines have done, for instance," said Malan.
On the other hand, the narrative that South Africans are xenophobic and do not like people from the rest of Africa is being entrenched, according to Samuel Mensah, founder and CEO of KISUA, a fashion brand that takes inspiration from traditional African techniques and materials.
Mensah, originally from Ghana, took part in the same panel discussion as Malan.
"The good thing is that South Africa is a beautiful country with rule of law, strong institutions and infrastructure. It is becoming Africa’s melting pot," said Mensah.
"The bad is the feeling among Africans that they are unwelcome in South Africa. Xenophobic attacks do not help. South Africa needs to fix this. I am not sure how, but it needs to be fixed."
He emphasised that the rest of Africa represents a huge economic opportunity for South Africa.
"Yet, many wealthy Africans would rather buy houses in Florida in the US than in Cape Town, he said.
"People's image of South Africa is Mandela, safari, Oscar Pistorius and Trevor Noah. That is the role personalities can play," said Mensah.
"Mark Shuttleworth changed the tech venture capital industry in South Africa. In 2017 almost half a billion dollars was invested in Africa in the tech venture capital space. So, creating South Africa's brand is about storytelling and crafting the narrative of what is happening now."
Solly Moeng, who hosted the summit, said business has a role to play regarding South Africa's brand image.
"We need to reach out to the African diaspora. It is nonsense that white South Africans do not love the country. Your country is always your country, but if your country is not reaching out to you, you will not reach out to it," said Moeng.
To him global benchmarking is very important when building a country brand, as well as finding ways to get feedback from the poor in South Africa on what they are struggling with.