• Simon Barber
US Country Manager, Brand South Africa
+1 202 276 5084
It has been 20 years since Nelson Mandela walked to freedom, 16 since the magical days of April 1994 when millions of South Africans cast ballots for the first time to make him our first truly representative president. The world watched in trepidation, then in wonder, as South Africa emerged from its generations-long nightmare of racial oppression as a new, united democracy.
This year, the world’s eyes were on South Africa again as we hosted the global Superbowl of soccer, the Fifa World Cup. There was plenty of excitement on the field. Off the field, the world saw a South Africa fulfilling the promise of its rebirth.
What happened in 1994 was not a miracle. Rather, it was a testament to the character of South Africans and our way of doing things. These transcend everything that has divided us and will carry us through the challenges we still face.
South Africans are an independent-minded lot. We acknowledge with gratitude the contributions and sacrifices of our friends in helping us bring down apartheid, but when the time came to construct a new order on apartheid’s ashes, we did it our own way. So many of us had been denied control of our destiny for so long that perhaps it was only natural that we would be particularly protective of it once we’d won it back. We also knew that, to be lasting, our solutions had to come from within so as to be owned by all.
That speaks to our innate pragmatism. We come at things from fresh angles, whether we’re looking for a political compromise to bridge chasms centuries in the making or we’re figuring out how the largest radio telescope ever conceived, the Square Kilometre Array. It is gratifying to hear the American scientists working with us on the SKA project speak, in glowing terms, of “the South Africa way”.
South Africans do difficult things well. Getting state-of-the-art stadiums and infrastructure ready for the World Cup was no cakewalk. Our landscape may be stunning but it has taken stamina, imagination and skill to survive and prosper in it. Blessed we may be with an extraordinary mineral endowments but to mine gold safely at depths where the rock is hot to the touch requires multiple feats of engineering. Our past may still haunt us in some respects, but it was also a crucible. It did not break us. It made us more resourceful and resilient. Today, we are among the most stable societies anywhere.
An essential element of the South African way is an ethos we call ubuntu, which holds that a person can only be as happy or as whole as the community of which he or she is a part. The shorthand for ubuntu is “I am because we are”. It has a lot to do with South Africans’ capacity to forgive. If you had the chance to listen to President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address in February, you would have heard him speak generously of the late President PW Botha, notorious for some of the apartheid era’s fiercest repression. Thabo Mbeki, our president before Zuma, went so far as to say that the perpetrators of apartheid were themselves victims because in treating others as less than human they lost their own humanity. No loss is more grievous and the loss is shared by all.
This informs the way we seek to contribute to a safer, more prosperous, more sustainable world. Ubuntu teaches us that we are all connected. It teaches the importance of listening to each other, of not casting each other as demons, of not allowing ourselves to be prisoners of history. It reinforces our resolve to move beyond old categories and ideological camps to try and see the world through the eyes of adversaries. It helps us draw on the rich diversity of our experience and tradition, philosophy and faiths, to find in concert lasting answers to our shared dilemmas.
That was the basis of the so-called miracle. That is why South Africa is an essential partner in the search for solutions to the problems that now, more than ever, bedevil all humanity. It’s time. Time to believe.
Simon Barber is the US country manager for the International Marketing Council, the custodian of Brand South Africa.
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Powering towards a green economy
South Africa plans to build a massive $21.8-billion, 5 000 MW solar park in its semi-desert Northern Cape province as part of an aggressive push to grow its highly industrialised economy without increasing its carbon footprint.
The everyday beauty of Soweto
South African photographer Jodi Bieber has a special ability to bring out the beauty in the ordinary, even the disfigured. On the cover of Time magazine she made a mutilated Afghani girl look beautiful, and in her latest book Soweto she makes everyday township life shine.
Launchpad to a billion consumers
By offering to acquire Massmart for some $4.2-billion, Wal-Mart has joined the parade of global companies looking to South Africa as a springboard into what is increasingly seen as the world’s last great investment frontier.
A trek to the start of time
It will probe the edges of our universe. It will be a virtual time machine, helping scientists explore the origins of galaxies. It’s the Square Kilometre Array, and South Africans are at the heart of its development.
Brewing up a global brand
Miller Lite. Tastes great. Less filling. And brought to you by world-beating South African company SABMiller.
Looking south and east for growth
As the shift in global economic power gains momentum, South Africa’s trade is moving eastwards and southwards in a pattern that both reflects the worldwide trend and helps drive it, writes John Battersby.
More than just a celluloid Mandela
There is a special bond between Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman and the man he played in the Clint Eastwood movie Invictus, South African statesman Nelson Mandela.
Africa in the new world order
Kgalema Motlanthe, South Africa’s deputy president, looks at how African economies’ resilient performance during the global financial crisis points to the continent’s new place in a changing world.
Mining history for new solutions
Mark Cutifani, CEO of the multinational AngloGold Ashanti mining company, examines why South Africa’s past is key to successfully doing business here in the future.
Turning up the media volume
Since 1990, South Africa has been a noisy place. After decades of apartheid censorship, the lifting of restrictions on the media led to a cacophony of debate. For the first time in centuries, everyone could be heard, and it was sometimes deafening, writes Anton Harber.
A joule of an energy-efficient car
South Africa, which builds BMWs and Mercedes Benzes for the US market, is in the thick of the race to deliver a truly practical – and stylish – electric car. Meet the Joule.
South Africa: Time to believe
The forgiving philosophy of “ubuntu” helps explain how South Africa managed to transcend its turbulent apartheid past and create a unified democracy, writes Simon Barber.
Finding sound real estate investment
South Africa’s post-apartheid transformation and new middle class are fuelling demand for affordable homes. For private equity fund International Housing Solutions, that means opportunity.
My normal, crazy, mixed-up country
South African hit movie White Wedding is now showing in the US to rave reviews. Jann Turner, who directed and jointly wrote and produced the film, writes about the place that inspired it – South Africa.
Bring on the braai
All South Africans love it – including Nobel peace prize-winning Desmond Tutu – and its rich, smoky smell floats over the country every Sunday. Celebrate the braai with our great recipe for making boerewors, traditional South African farmer’s sausage.