Less than 20 years ago, South Africa was a country that legally separated whites and non-whites. Despite the suffering of its people, violence at home and international sanctions, the country did not end apartheid until 1994.
Although far from being problem-free, in 15 years, South Africa has gone from being an internationally condemned country for its racially oppressive government, to one that is slowly trying to recover from decades of damage and attempting to move forward to resolve its issues and present a better face to its people and to the world.
Despite acceptance by the world’s athletic community, recognition of the country’s natural beauty by travelers and the admiration of South African wines by connoisseurs, it is no secret that problems remain. The government is making a strong effort to position its brand and to portray itself in a more positive light while dealing with the issues that still plague and divide its society, including HIV and AIDS, poverty, violence against women and racism.
South African officials are very conscious of how they want to present the country to the world. Social media already has a place in South African government, with Facebook and the country’s Brand South Africa blog featured prominently on the country’s web portal. The website invites visitors to join the conversation, and asks how the world perceives the country, which ispoised to host the FIFA World Cup next year. Efforts to boost tourist traffic go beyond a website and a blog to include a frequently updated Twitter account.
Wider use of social media might give the world a different glimpse into modern South African society, and also enable South Africans to get a different perspective on how the rest of the world lives, bringing both worlds closer to each other. Social media by its very nature is more open, authentic and transparent—and, for better or worse, not ruled by the same norms as mainstream media.
In her blog, South African marketer Yvonne Johnston commented that “new media poses an amazing opportunity, as everyone becomes connected by the Internet or cell phone, the possibilities for communication open up. It is up to Africans to tell their story because in fact, THEY are the brand”
Johnston writes also about the role all Africans play in helping build the African brand, and in contributing to change world opinion about the continent and the countries within it. It is a country poised for renewal, and companies willing to take a risk can both contribute to this renewal and benefit from it.