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Building Brand South Africa

Updated: 2014-01-17 11:07
By Li Lianxing ( China Daily Africa)

 Building Brand South Africa

Miller Matola says more Chinese investors have established factories in Africa to make a real contribution to the local economy. Li Lianxing / China Daily

A new national marketing strategy is promoting the country as a vibrant destination for tourists and culture buffs as well as investors

Chinese investors in Africa have become more aware of the need for sustainable development and a closer bilateral relationship that relies on efforts from both sides, a senior South African official says.

"I have heard in length about China's going-global strategy, which stresses a win-win situation when investing in this continent," says Miller Matola, chief executive officer of Brand South Africa, which is the country's official marketing agency. "Increasingly what you are seeing among Chinese investors in Africa is an understanding of the notion of the developmental aspect of investment on the continent."

He says past Chinese involvement in Africa was mainly focused on bringing resources back to produce goods in China, and then sell the commodities to the world, including Africa. But now they are gaining awareness of a more mutually beneficial approach.

"You can see a shift in the new investors' mindset that it's not just coming in and taking away. They have established manufacturing factories in Africa to make a real contribution to local economies," Matola says.

To further attract this kind of beneficial investment, BSA set up an office in Beijing late last year to promote its country as an ideal investment destination and to seek business opportunities for South African companies in the Chinese market.

"China is a significant and long-term strategic partner with South Africa, which is a very strong base not only for increasing investment and trade between us, but also for transferring skills, technology and knowledge between two sides," Matola says. "For instance, we can learn a lot from China in terms of how it is able to address its developmental challenges around security, job creation and poverty reduction."

He says China is one of South Africa's biggest partners, and trade between them has increased tremendously during the past few years, from $4.6 billion in 2004 to $60 billion in 2012.

According to Matola, previously it was China that initiated its publicity in African countries to promote its business, but now the establishment of an office in Beijing shows that South Africa has become the first African country to have a specific agency to brand the country in China.

Building Brand South Africa

"It's very important for us to create a strong awareness of the South African brand in China, just as it's important for China to do the same in Africa and South Africa," he said. "We are building a lot of relationships in business, trade, FDI and other areas. We also need to move to establish greater understanding at a people-to-people level, so intercultural relations are crucial to BSA in Beijing."

South African companies in China previously kept a low profile and did not do their business through the media, but some still did very well, Matola says.

According to Matola, the South African company Naspers bought a 46 percent share of China's Tencent Holdings Limited in 2001, which is now the fourth-largest Internet company in the world after Google, Amazon and eBay.

"Part of our role now is to build a greater awareness of these facts to encourage more South African corporations to do business in China in the long run," he says.

Matola also believes person-to-person contact has a role to play in developing business links between the two regions.

"I have been to China many times on business, but after a while I took my family there for personal reasons, and now we want to go there again as we learned so much about the country."

He says if more Chinese people could have a chance to visit his country, tourism and business would grow hand in hand.

With several offices in Europe and the United States, BSA has a central strategy to promote South Africa as an ideal business destination, but different sectors in different regions are approached in different ways.

"We stress the strategic importance of South Africa on this continent. In the early days we promoted it as the gateway to or the first investment point of Africa. But now it has shifted and we are saying South Africa is a very important hub from a business perspective, not only for logistics, but also for providing a safe and secure investment environment into the continent, because we have a very strong and well-established legal system, good financial services and regulations."

He also stresses South Africa's leading position in terms of investment in Africa. He says 57 percent of growth and investment in the continent comes from South Africa, and this adds to its attraction to investors.

"You can't ignore South Africa if you want to invest in Africa. We don't speak on behalf of the continent, but we raise issues that affect the continent at multinational forums because we are part of the continent," he says.

BSA's main responsibility is to coordinate the marketing of the country to ensure that companies and businesspeople present a coherent and consistent brand image of what South Africa has to offer. BSA also operates domestically to work with South Africans to build civic pride and to ensure everyone contributes to the national effort.

"We now work largely through national stakeholders. For example, we work with the departments of Trade and Industry, International Relations and Cooperation, Tourism, and Art and Culture. But we also work with business and civic societies and organizations.

"All we do is ensure we market South Africa in a coordinated fashion and send a coherent and consistent message from our country to attract investment, business, tourism and trade."

He uses tourism as an example. In the past, South Africa marketed its tourism only for single destinations that offered impressive scenery. BSA now is involved in building a holistic image of South Africa as a destination for visitors, businessmen, skilled workers, technicians and investors.

"We are more about creating a reputation and an image of the country, not so much about sector-specific marketing, which should be done by individual agencies," he says.

One of the reasons for establishing BSA was to change the previous narrative of the country. Before 1994 the South Africa's story was all about apartheid, and this discouraged business opportunities. But now, Matola says, the country has changed a great deal and people should come to experience it for themselves.

"It's very important to tell the world what has been achieved during the past 20 democratic years in this country, but also to tell the story of where the country is going, which is the national development plan and Vision 2030," he says.

"We need to promote South Africa as a democratic, stable country that has a national vision concentrating on inclusive growth and necessary development, and to attract as much investment as we can to ensure we can increase our exports to the world; and China is a very important partner to make that vision come to life."


(China Daily Africa Weekly 01/17/2014 page38)

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