Jacob Zuma, Nkandla have ‘little impact’ on SA's reputation

2014-08-02 09:20

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Washington – Scandals involving President Jacob Zuma have little impact on SA’s reputation in the US, Brand SA country manager Simon Barber has said.

South Africans were more worried about issues such as the R246m upgrade to Zuma’s private home in Nkandla, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, he said in Washington yesterday.

“This stuff isn’t being followed [in the US] and it’s pretty much inside baseball.

“Let’s be honest, from a US point of view, so the president has his compound in KZN, which costs $20m. Well, you know, in this country, people in New York buy apartments for $20m. So I don’t think people are widely stunned by that,” he said.

“That’s our politics, it doesn’t say an awful lot about the country as a whole.”

SA’s asset was that in the US, it was seen as the country of former president Nelson Mandela.

“That still resonates strongly with the US,” Barber said.

“Record numbers of Americans are going to SA for holidays and business; 300 000 last year and all of them are coming back with a good story to tell.”

In terms of business interest, US investors could be more concerned with issues of labour unrest.

However, South Africans in SA were not very good at looking at the country in context, Barber said.

“We are not the only emerging market with labour unrest, so it’s been a problem for us right now, but in the broader scheme of things, we’re not that unusual,” he said.

The country has just come out of a five-month strike in the platinum mining sector and a four week strike in the metals and engineering sector.

Barber was speaking ahead of the US-Africa Leaders Summit, which is being held in Washington next week.

A South African delegation, led by Zuma, will be attending the summit.

Barber said in terms of US interest, SA had a boring story at the moment.

The strikes on Gaza, the clashes between Russia and the Ukraine and Boko Haram in Nigeria were taking most of the focus.

“The old news line is ‘if it bleeds it leads’. Well, we’re not bleeding relatively speaking.

“There isn’t blood running in our streets, our girls are not being kidnapped by religious fanatics, we aren’t at war or bombing anybody. We look pretty good right now,” he said.

However, there were a number of stereotypes about SA and Africa.

Many people in the US did not see SA as having an advanced manufacturing sector.

“When you tell them that the 3 Series BMW you see parked over there could well have been made in Pretoria, they are stunned.”

Brand SA in the US was trying to change that perception, Barber said.

» Flight and hotel costs for Sapa’s reporter covering the summit were paid for by the Presidency.

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