Brand South Africa hosted a diverse group of international academics at the University of Pretoria on 5 October, for its first day-long University Dialogue on the Nation Brand.
In welcoming delegates, vice chancellor Professor Cheryl de la Rey said that, given the ongoing protest and debate on campuses across South Africa, the event was a timely reminder of the crucial role universities play in defining and shaping a nations' identity.
The University of Pretoria, she said, was committed to its role in advancing South Africa as a nation. "This is the opportune time to host this event. It is a moment to think deeply of the value of public institutions to society and brand in South Africa."
Today's event brings together a range of leading academics to deliberate on how South Africa is currently positioned, whether this positioning is positive or negative, what is working, and how the various elements of the brand impact on nation brand positioning.
The discussion is intended to give Brand South Africa a solid basis from which to critique the work currently executed, with a range of stakeholders, in positioning South Africa competitively and positively.
"Universities are the public spaces for discourse on the nature of our society," De la Rey said. A strong and resilient nation brand, she said, was built on a common vision and a shared identity. Universities were the place where a nation of people should discover who they are.
She added that she hoped today's discussions would end with innovative and creative solutions to the fault-lines we face as a nation.
Ambassador Kingsley Makhubela, Brand South Africa CEO, said that universities were the perfect venue for the nation brand conversation. "Academic communities allow for open discussion."
The issue to be discussed today, he said, was how we overcome the problem of blurred lines when we try to define a strong state versus nation brand. "A strong state will build a strong nation brand," he said.
The solutions generated today would be useful, so he encouraged delegates to be frank and open. "The ideas we generate today will have an impact. They will inform policy."