SINDISWA MQUQU is the general manager, Africa & Middle East, Brand South Africa, in this interview she tells FUNKE OSAE-BROWN how she has been managing South Africa as a world class brand.
She looks radiant in her multi-coloured dress with her packed up forming a doughnut shape above her head. Her chocolate coloured spectacle accentuates her small round face. She is full of smiles as she welcomes me to The George Hotel, Ikoyi, venue of our interview.
Sindiswa Mququ is the general manager, Africa & Middle East, Brand South Africa the official reputation management and marketing agency that manages South Africa as a brand.
“Our business is to ensure that the reputation of the country is properly managed,” she tells me as soon as our interview began, “and to get to understand what people think about South Africa, and give them more information.”
She currently works for Brand Africa where is she responsible for Africa and Middle East program. The mandate of the program is to build and manage South Africa’s reputation in Africa and the middle East in order to enhance the competitiveness of the nation brand as well as collaborate with other similar organizations in the continent to build Africa’s competitiveness.
Before joining the employ of Brand SA, she was director at the Department of Trade and Industry, responsible for South Africa’s Bilateral Economic relations with countries in the West Africa Region. This entailed facilitating trade and investment between the business people of the region and South Africa as well as serving the South Africa’s bilateral agreements with them.
She has also worked for the provincial government of the Eastern Cape where she was the Director responsible for the province’s international relations. She worked for the department of Foreign Affairs (now Department of International Relations and Cooperation-DIRCO) as an assistant Director in the Africa Bilateral Branch and the City of Cape Town where she was manager responsible for the City’s International Relations.
She says the government of South Africa decides to manage the country’s image because people are usually ruled by presumptions instead of reality. “The presumptions that people have are their reality about anything,” she explains. “For us, we get into that space. We are responsible for exposing the nation’s brand which for us is made up of tourism element, trade and investments, and governance. It also cuts across executives, judiciary, legislative powers and South Africa as a people, as individuals.”
According to her, the South Africa brand is exposed to the world through international marketing and also marketing South Africa domestically to South Africans so that they can be a testimony to the brand promise they make out of their country. Brand South Africa wants people to experience South Africa through South Africans.
Mququ has been steering the ship of the organisation since 2013. And she says the experience has been exciting and challenging. “I knew from my previous work that the image on the continent is not at the level where we would like it to be. We understood the perceptions that people had and then the challenge was to make sure we are responding to that by providing the right information.”
For her, the experience has been a bit of challenge but the excitement comes from the fact that she also communicates the rest of the continent to South Africans because they also hold their own perceptions about any other countries on the continent.
“This is done in contextualisation of the history of South Africa,” she adds. “A history that was rather encouraging across the culture, that was only inward focused; a history that did not expose South Africa to the rest of the continent. Our immigration regulation before 1994 was not easy for the rest of the continent to travel into South Africa because the country was governed by the people who preferred strong relations with Europe.”
However, things changed when Late Mandela was elected as the first black president in South Africa in 1994. The government that took over sought alliance with people who look like them. The people who look like them are from the other parts of the continent. Therefore, the Mandela government opened the gate to the rest of the continent.
“Again, contextualising our history,” explains Mququ, was the coming together of more than 10 countries. That meant that travelling within South Africa was limited hence small countries were created. In 1994, we had to amalgamate all of these into one unit, and then South Africans began to question each other on why they were where they were. They are other people who looked like black South Africans who are coming from elsewhere and they are also competing for the same piece of cake. That is the context within which South Africa was formed into this unit.”
Mququ says the perception across countries is that South Africans are not welcoming. Another is that among ten South Africans, a good number will be HIV positive. These are some of the many issues confronting the brand South Africa which they are seeking to correct.
“People also think that South Africans do not want them to invest in their space but they want to invest in other countries’ space. These are perceptions and these are not true. Before we use to travel to the UK, South Africans did not need Visa, until recently, because the British government felt that there are South Africans who come to Britain with authentic South African documents and they do funny things in their territory. Therefore, we have to check up the system. It was imperative that any serious government had to respond to. We did not stop going to the UK.
“When we open the doors in 1994, welcoming countries, we also adopted some elements that had ill intentions. The UN report of 2009 cited South Africa of having high rate of human trafficking. As a serious country, we had to do something because it is like a pendulum that is swung from one direction to the other. Before 1994, we choose people who will come, now anyone who wants to come can come. The new immigration regulation is to strike a level ground to say we are a responsible country. If you are travelling with children, we must be clear that the parents said you can travel with their children. Criminals do funny things because of the screening process that was not done properly. We had people from Europe who have been killing and we have cases in our judiciary systems that are dealing with such. So, it becomes a narrative that you as a Nigerian will not know what is actually happening, you only focus on what affects you. As a country we are responding to these things. We acknowledge that to get a birth certificate takes a little bit longer than we will like to see it but we are improving the system.”
Some of the mechanisms she says her organization is using in building this positive image in South Africa and outside South Africa include engaging and have a simple conversation with people around the world.
“We ask people what they think. We do it at home and with people from the rest of the continent who are in South Africa, from different countries. We are the traditional marketing so that we communicate our narrative. That is why we are tapping into the creative arts. We need to know what we can do together because when we find each other, we celebrate diversity, we don’t frown upon people who are different from us. We need to understand those differences that Nigerians are forceful. Just embrace diversity and see the beauty of us in being different. That is why our national pay off line is united in diversity. We celebrate diversity and see how we can strengthen each other.”
Furthermore, she says she is visiting Nigeria with her team to continuously engage Nigerian people in a dialogue. “Last year, we went to Abuja and Lagos. The purpose is to encourage this engagement. We are in the space to have good conversation and to sell the nation brand. We are saying this is South Africa as a nation brand but to say this is one element of the continental brand that is brand Africa. What is it that we can do, working together to build that brand. The heads of state have said the aspirant brand by 2063 is a continuous one as we build the steps towards 2063. We engage on those things to say although we are separate brands but together we are all sharing the same objective of building a continental brand.”