Marikana harmed South Africa's reputation

2012-08-22 20:54

The fact that a massacre happened last week in a democratic South Africa will embarrass us citizens for a while, but the fact that it made headlines on Aljazeera,, BCC, CNN, Channel Asia News and China Today will sacrifice our prestige as a nation amongst nations of the world. This is a huge problem for us now and in the future.

In international news, it was implied that South Africa is a violent country and black people go into an irrational orgy of bloodletting, that we have poor leadership in business and politics, and that we have weak union-employer relations in spite of strong bargaining processes.

This is not merely a negative coverage of the country worldwide, but it leaves serious damage on the country's image. It diminishes it as a notable regional power and an African giant in world affairs. It harms its integrity and prestige internationally.

This has a bearing on our role and stature in the world including our ability to attract investments and beneficial friendships needed for us to achieve the lofty goals of the newly released National Development Plan. Actions involving a relatively small group of people - the Lonmin company, rock drillers or the police - will cause a significant damage to our reputation.

We should really care about this because often, as the BRICS case shows, we have built our successes less on our material capacities than on the power of our prestige. The iconography of Nelson Mandela whom the mass democratic movement had used as the face of the struggle from the early 1980s through the Release Mandela campaign combined well with the near-miraculous transition democracy to project South Africa in the positive light.

This prestige placed us at the centre of international affairs and made attractive for tourists and investors alike; world politicians and celebrities.

Through this prestige, we were able to get the support of many countries to host major sports events and global conferences. We could inspire Africa towards a renaissance. We were promoted into the league of major countries of the south in the India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) forum and the Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa (BRICS) platform. We had a very rare fortune of being elected twice in less than 5 years as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council.

This, which is commonly known as soft power, is an important element of our national successes too, from peacemaking to the SKA award. It enables us to create economic opportunities. We use it to defend human and people's rights. It is the source of our strength in international negotiations on anything from fishing to market access for our agricultural products to environment.

We have to redeem ourselves by rejecting mediocrity in the mining industry, in unionism and in our politics. We need a better show of leadership from all three sectors.  We also need to rediscover that old principle of the struggle that was lost at transition: the Gandhian principle of non-violence.

Our prestige will best be protected by promoting responsible behaviour on our part as citizens and as a nation state. We have to do better at anticipating spikes in public anger that could lead to reputation-harming crises. We should continuously improve our normative conduct as a country in international stages by acting in an exemplary manner.

We should also invest in serious public diplomacy, especially the engagement of citizens in areas caught up in a vicious cycle of poverty and anger. We should always be conscious of our international image and its great importance as a component of our soft power in the world.


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