South Africa is without doubt, the most developed country in Africa. Located on the southernmost part of the African continent, South Africa is three times bigger than Texas, and five times bigger than Japan and in the aspect of technology and infrastructural development, the country is a leader and clearly stands out among other African nations. This is part of the reason westerners at times regard South Africa as a country that is completely outside of Africa or a continent with many other countries. In a setting like this, it would be worthwhile to know what other African countries (especially other relatively large economies in Sub-Saharan Africa) think of South Africa, how they feel about its people and what goes through their thoughts at the mention of South Africa.
To be able to properly ascertain this, it required that questions be asked to a selection of Africans who were not South Africans. Brand South Africa (BSA) therefore decided to conduct a pilot study in Nigeria located on the Gulf of Guinea and Kenya, located in East Africa with the aim of assessing the perceptions of South Africa and its citizens in these countries.
BSA interviewed a varying range of respondents which included professionals, diplomats, businessmen and women, citizens, policymakers and artists and the following results were obtained:
1. One of the strongest outcomes was that Kenyans and Nigerians believe South Africans should have a stronger awareness that they are part of Africa.
2. Respondents in these countries equally view themselves as having contributed to South Africa’s freedom due to the material donations from the citizens of both Nigeria and Kenya during the struggle against apartheid.
3. Respondents in Nigeria and Kenya are very well informed about South Africa and follow South African domestic events very closely.
4. South Africans are viewed as liberal and open in nature and by implication, South Africa was seen as welcoming and open. “However, South Africans are also viewed as aggressive and domineering in their business relations in these countries,” BSA said.
“The respondents, particularly in Kenya, also indicated that South Africans should be more nuanced in their business entry strategy when considering expansion into Kenya.”
They expressed concern that South African companies do not take sufficient notice of peculiar market conditions and the individual needs of the market.
“In Nigeria, however, contrary to popular view, respondents suggested that they view the management practices of South Africans very positively,” said BSA. As a matter of fact, Nigerian respondents sought to take lessons from the way in which South African companies were run.
5. The study also indicated that the South African culture, including music and arts, was viewed very positively among respondents in Nigeria and Kenya. “Although the first in a series, Brand South Africa’s research has indicated that South Africa and its citizens enjoy strong brand appeal and positive associations,” BSA said.
The research did have implications for bilateral citizen interactions since relations — political or social — arose from people as representatives of their various institutions.
Despite the rising xenophobic attacks in parts of the country, South Africa has remained committed to Africa’s unified agenda and the African Union’s ambitious development plans. Nevertheless, other African countries other than the ones mentioned above have a different perspective about the country.
Following the large-scale attacks on foreigners in the recent years, African countries are beginning to generally believe that South Africa is unfriendly to its sister countries. This was compounded by the views of most of the country’s politicians that the xenophobic attacks are criminal acts when it was clear that they were targeted at non-South Africans.
The dominant view is that South Africa does not create or promote opportunities for wider African involvement. Rather, its own economic interests always enjoy priority. This is despite South Africa’s rhetoric of ubuntu (human kindness). In fact, to most citizens of other African Nations, South Africans are not really Africans, they are their own Africa.
Similarly, the people in first world countries perceive South Africa as one African country that has come a long way since its independence. However, it remains a country of vast inequality and high crime ratings.