New reasons to be proud

2011-04-20 00:00

NOW in its 10th year, the Proudly SA campaign, which exhorts South Africans to buy local, is undergoing something of a revival after two years in which consumer and business interest was distracted first by the recession and then the Fifa World Cup. This week the campaign threw its weight behind the government’s job-creation agenda. In return, the government placed a message of support for Proudly SA, signed by President Jacob Zuma, in the country’s national newspapers, including the Sunday Times.

“Our campaign has always been about buying local as a means to stimulate job creation,” says acting CEO Herbert Mkhize. “But this year government has put job creation at the centre of everything it does. And it will be using the Industrial Policy Action Plan and the New Growth Path as anchors for the job-creation drive. It follows then that Proudly SA’s action plans should hang on these key priorities.

“We will be throwing the kitchen sink at this. We have to ramp up manufacturing activity in South Africa. Nearly all successful economies have manufacturing at their base.”

One part of the campaign will continue to focus on the SA public, urging them to buy local products. Despite a decade of campaigning, this message is still to hit home. “Consumer activism in SA is zero or even minus 10,” Mkhize says. “The Consumer Protection Act did not come about because of the protest action of consumers. No. In fact SA consumers are prepared to accept mediocre service. They do not stand up. Just look at Zakumi [SA mascot for the Football World Cup]. Zakumi was made under suspect conditions, yet consumers did not object.

“And although the Proudly SA logo is recognisable to the majority of consumers, the buying behaviour it encourages is not automatic.

“You do not see the Queen of England driven in anything but an English-made car. The German chancellor is the same, as is the French prime minister.

Proudly SA aims to get over a million public servants to sign a public commitment to buying local. “The buying power of public servants is amazing. But when they are looking for a suit, for instance, it is not a locally made suit they are looking for. We must create a culture where they feel embarrassed not to be wearing a made-in-SA suit,” he chuckles.

Proudly SA plans to provide a central database of local suppliers to all state organs and businesses. This should support their efforts to procure locally manufactured products and services.

Proudly SA also wants to form a compact with the retailers. “We want them to commit to local-content targets — even if takes three to five years to get there.” He says they recognise the structural constrains that manufacturers face, for instance in the garment industry. “We hope to complement the work of the clothing industry for instance. We will bring the societal dimension — the buying behaviour.”

Proudly SA will throw its weight behind government efforts to procure goods locally. “We want national, provincial and local government to source all their daily consumables locally. We want them to act as ambassadors.”

He acknowledges that there is a delicate balance between value and patriotism. “This is taxpayers’ money. You cannot invest in mediocre products or expensive products simply because they are South African. I don’t believe quality is an issue, our products are world-class. But in some cases price may be an issue.”

And here Proudly SA seems to be wandering into dangerous territory. It is a small unit of 30 people with limited resources and unlimited ambition.

“Take chicken. A lot of chicken is imported at cheaper prices. But the price of chicken in SA is artificial — this is an industry that is subject to Competition Commission investigations. If the government supports a new chicken producer who comes into the market at competitive prices then the government, in particular hospitals and prisons, could be that producer’s first customer. There is a huge opportunity there.”

Mkhize is also the CEO of Nedlac. He acted as CEO of Proudly SA for the past three years, but says there is a short-list for a new CEO. The plan is to make the appointment by June 1.

“As Proudly SA we are past saying we are here. Hello. It’s not enough for consumers to say ‘we are proudly SA’ — we want people to demonstrate this through actions, not words.” — Money

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