Xenophobia and the South African Brand Challenge

South Africa has once again been plunged into the clutches of xenophobic violence. The first time this happened on a large scale was in 2008, where countless thousands of migrants were either killed or misplaced. Now in 2015 it is happening again; throughout the country; from the seemingly peaceful Cape right through the capital and beyond.

This post is not; however tragic it is; about the plight of xenophobia; its political or racial motives; or an answer to end the violence; it is more about what the South African Brand needs to do in order to successfully navigate this devastating tragedy and to look at what damage has already been done.

The effects of the xenophobic attacks are felt across the South African economy as they are not just confined to tourism; but spills over to how well our currency is performing overseas and how our country is rated.

We, meaning the South African brand, managed to navigate the storm in 2008; but the noise around xenophobia in 2008 was a mere online mumble compared to our current plight as the Google Search Trend shows.

Quick Brand Analysis

Having a quick glance around at various sentiment analysis tools a quite frightening picture starts to emerge. One such tool (www.topsy.com) has tracked 46 000+ tweets over the last 30 days relating to “South Africa” and “Xenophobia”; and gives a sentiment score of just 17. When you compare this to a search of just “South Africa” for the same period; the picture gets a little clearer.


The South African brand has been linked to xenophobia. This is a given. This is not an “ah-ha” moment epiphany. The question that stems from this is how do we quell the negative association and secondly how do we show positive brand action.

Categorically I think we can all agree that this is simply not a question of turning up the volume around how awesome our country is. What wonderful vistas we have; our world renowned tourist destinations and bury them in tales of democracy.

The story brand South Africa needs to be telling here and now is one of action. Brand South Africa needs to take a stand and say no more through action. We need to show how we are fighting this scourge and how we are implementing change for good.

Action Stations

At present I do not feel that we are singing that song. Yes, there are some campaigns that are circulating to try and influence change; but personally I do not feel that the campaigns are targeted correctly.

Take the #WeAreAfrica hashtag and site: www.weareafrica.mobi that has been launched by the South African Government (apps coming soon!) The purpose of the app in its current guise is to pledge against xenophobia and then to report any xenophobic incidents.

So what?!

Are we really using these online and social platforms to communicate with the masses who are perpetrating these heinous crimes? In my honest opinion this feels like a move to say; “get off our backs, look we are doing something; go look at our site!” It lacks credibility and any form of usefulness!

  • Show me President Jacob Zuma’s pledge against xenophobia.
  • Show me rival political leaders working together.
  • Show me how my report of an incident will be handled and what the next steps are.
  • Show me what to do if I am caught in the middle of a xenophobia attack.
  • Show me how I can help fight this plague.

This is a vacuous display. In short it says and does nothing more than this superb quote from the Ministry of Science and Technology upon launching the site. “The app will automatically capture the geographic location of the person, which will allow an analysis of spatially-based sentiments and patterns, thereby supporting decision-making.”

A pledge is great; a site is great – but it is passive. Brand South Africa needs action. We are done with passive. Passive leads us nowhere and accomplishes nothing!

The Brand Challenge

The South African Brand Challenge is to break out of this spiral; to inculcate change and influence positive sentiment through action. We need to be seen as a nation that can clean up our own mess and create an environment that is safe and secure.

I realise that this is not an easy road to travel; but it is a necessary journey.

http://quotespictures.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/be-wise-not-only-in-words-but-in-deeds-mere-knowledge-is-not-the-goal-but-action-aplology-quotes.jpgInfluence happens at many levels; but it is most effective when those you are trying to influence can experience (even vicariously) how their actions are damaging others. Words are meaningless here. It is only action that can bring about change. Political speeches – no matter how eloquent; religious pleas – no matter how pious; pledges – no matter how far spread; songs – no matter how catchy; are not going to influence the masses responsible; nor convince the world that this is a country worth saving.

Ideas to motivate change

If you have a way to action change; please let us know how, short of singing “Heal The World”, we can make a tangible difference in South Africa.

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