South Africa is a brand, a country brand; and, like
all brands, it must have leadership.
All successful brands are led. They have a vision;
they have guiding principles – or values – and they have leaders with a plan.
Such leaders are also ethical, emotionally intelligent,
mature, empathetic, and they understand the impact of their own words and
actions on the brands they lead.
They do not just teeter along without clarity about
which direction to follow and in what style to do so. Else the brands they lead
might end up stumbling into an abyss from which coming out would be a difficult,
even impossible, feat to pull off.
Reputationally speaking, South Africa is hanging on
with one hand to such an abyss, begging to be pulled up before it falls.
When President Cyril Ramaphosa took over from his
predecessor, many South Africans from across historic divides sighed in relief,
happy that he would not represent the continuation of what his predecessor and
the people around him had come to symbolise.
They did this despite the fact that Ramaphosa had been
deputy to his notorious predecessor during the latter’s second term in office; a
period that saw a great deal of socio-economic and reputational damage unleashed
on the country.
To many South Africans, the Ramaphosa they were
welcoming into the presidency in 2018 was not the one who had just served as
deputy president to the man from Nkandla. They welcomed the man said to have
enjoyed Nelson Mandela’s support. Memories many had of him were of a charming
politician who had mastered the art of ‘reaching over the isle’, as it were, to
seek solutions despite seemingly irreconcilable views. If South Africa were to
leave all the social, political, economic and reputational devastation of the
state capture years behind and begin a second journey of healing and recovery, Ramaphosa
was the man many were willing to bet on.
A political brand with many lives
As a political brand, Ramaphosa is very lucky. He always
seems to land on his feet, no matter how high he gets tossed, because South
Africans want him to succeed, despite the odds. They know that if he fails, or is
removed from office, we will all fail, and justice for those who aided, abetted
and benefited from state capture could fall by the wayside.
Brand Ramaphosa is so strong that controversial phrases
such as ‘Radical Economic Transformation’ and ‘Expropriation Without Compensation’
draw less ire from their opponents when they roll from his mouth. It could be
the way he says them, or the smile on his face, or his unthreatening, gentlemanly
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So, assuming that Ramaphosa and those around him are
aware of the power of his personal brand, and mindful of the old adage that
with great power comes great responsibility, they should work with him for the
good of all South Africans, not just those in the party he was elected to lead.
South Africans would like him to keep saying all the
unifying things only he says so well: reminding them that South Africa belongs
to all who live in it; that no one must leave the country because it needs them;
that we must all work together to build our country. Or, for example, when includes
in his speeches the phrase,”…all South Africans, black and white”.
Still, the actions and utterances of the party he
leads, and some of the other leaders in it, do not always endorse the beautiful
things Ramaphosa himself says. If this doesn’t stop, he will lose his
credibility – and damage his political brand – at a very rapid pace.
Ramaphosa still enjoys a good stock of reputational
credit, but he doesn’t it have it in endless supplies.
While he still commands a great deal of respect, there
is the danger that the country’s people could begin to see him as not enjoying
sufficient authority in his party to do what he must for South Africa. If
Ramaphosa cannot maintain the same credibility he enjoys as president when he
speaks as party boss, his political brand credibility is at risk.
Does the president understand the power of his brand? Only
he can answer that.
* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.