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Marrying the best aspects of the black economic empowerment drive and the Proudly South African campaign has staggering potential – a global brand that will be truly South African. The time has come for SA to move away from using black economic empowerment (BEE) as the overriding measure of acceptable business practice, in favour of a more encompassing vision.

We have the chance to be truly South African, and transform the Proudly South African (Proudly SA) brand into a globally recognised, unified standard - one that fuses SA`s historically motivated economic imperatives with international business norms.

After all, at the Africa Economic Summit 2005 in June, Lazarus Zim, CEO of Anglo American SA, proclaimed Africa`s need to "trumpet its successes and build a new brand, based on the good things happening on the continent".


The time for SA to lead by example is not now, according to most ICT players iWeek spoke to.

While there is enthusiasm for a move towards such a `new and all-inclusive standard`, there is also strong opposition to diluting BEE. One executive says: "It would be ethically and politically na ve to try to do so now".

Says , COO of Wireless Business Solutions (WBS): "You cannot hide a BEE objective inside Proudly SA. The two seek distinctly different objectives. BEE seeks to address past imbalances, whereas Proudly SA promotes local buying."

group executive concurs: "The two `brands` have different functions. BEE is a specific initiative around transformation. A better name might be `Truly South African`. Proudly SA is about marketing and does not indicate anything about transformation."

But Anton Potgieter, MD of Telepassport, disagrees. "Brilliant concept," he enthuses. "By encouraging BEE to be `merged` with Proudly SA, the entire `brand` can become internationally marketable and outward-focused, while still keeping its local impact.


Perhaps the crux of the matter is not the concept itself, but the vastly different perceptions and expectations among ICT executives as to what constitutes good business practice, when BEE is still regarded by many as `a ticket to the local game`.

The core argument in favour of building a new and inclusive Proudly (or Truly) SA brand, one to be based on both standard economic measures and SA-specific requirements, is to advance local transformation whilst also improving the global competitiveness of SA companies.

One company that firmly believes it is time for SA to move beyond the transformation phase is local software development house, nVisionIT. The company became a Proudly SA supporter in 2002, one year after it was formed. Three years later it got a BEE partner, when Enterprise Connection acquired a 25.1% equity stake.

Says , MD, nVisionIT: "Our primary motivation [for Proudly SA support] was not economic. We associated with the ethos. BEE, on the other hand, [is] a requirement [for] sustainable long-term growth. Now, with transformation part of the way we do business, we [want to go] beyond BEE."

He sees a revived and redefined Proudly SA concept as providing that potential. "Proudly SA has not done much to help us leverage any marketing value. In a way this is quite tragic, as we really like the idea."

He also believes the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) should use the Proudly SA initiative to spearhead SA`s international trade initiatives. "Being successful in SA does not necessary translate to being globally competitive," he notes.

He elaborates: "Right now, with international opportunities, companies like nVisionIT are on their own in seeking to partner abroad and develop opportunities - a slow process. "Proudly SA as a brand transcends the concept of empowerment and distils the essence of what we believe are the positive factors of business in SA that can be incorporated. We should leverage this, both within and outside South Africa."

For Van Zijl, it`s not about replacing BEE with Proudly SA. It`s about business and government laying the foundations for a "New Partnership for SA Development".


One way to transform Proudly SA from its image of a members` marketing initiative to something of more substance, according to Potgieter, is to develop a proper accredited rating system.

He elaborates: "Being an `A-grade` Proudly SA company, for example, with defined achievement and content levels, would carry huge weight internationally. If BEE could be integrated as part of it, even better. Proudly SA would become a sort of BEE-plus accreditation, showing a deeper commitment to all things `local and good`."

Not necessarily, according to Daniel Pretorius, a partner in Attorneys. "In my experience, by far the most international businesses and potential investors will base their decisions on an analysis of its economic merits and the quality of the service provided by an SA company. They are simply not interested in whether it is a BEE business or a `Proudly SA` business (in much the same way that we would not care particularly whether a New Zealand business is Maori-owned or `Proudly New Zealand`)."

, MD, Dell SA concurs: "Whatever `label` is attached to the company, for it to be globally successful it has to satisfy a number of criteria. Being BEE is the least of it - at least internationally. For starters, being competitive [on brand, product, customer service, reach, management vision etc.] will far outweigh any SA-specific credentials."

Then there`s also the merged metrics to be considered. "While improvement of the Proudly SA concept is a good thing, there are many complexities around how to weight the various attributes," notes ICT analyst .

He adds: "Also, if a customer wants to buy from a BEE company, because of their industry charter, they may struggle to assess the BEE attributes of the supplier clearly, if they are mixed with Proudly SA criteria. There`re also bound to be numerous debates and arguments as to how to constitute and score it."

Adds Potgieter: "The only way this can get off the ground is for it to be given an unquestionably strong, consistent accreditation method, with legislated support at the highest level. The bottom line is transparency, accountability and control."


As with anything in business [and life] there will be pros and cons to any new concept. Some of the advantages, according to Mark Seele, Partner Consulting, Deloitte & Touche, are that "it picks up on a `brand` that has already been built and has international recognition, without taking away the BBBEE drive that we strive to achieve. It also moves us towards a more internationally recognised standard."

He adds: "One disadvantage is that Proudly SA could become `polluted`, unless managed, thereby destroying brand value."

To make it happen, the strategic shift from government needs to be there, according to Seele.

Adds Potgieter: "Government should definitely drive it, but it is also up to business to lobby to get government involved."

But, going by the majority vote, business will not be doing any lobbying any time soon. "If unemployment among black people was in the single digits then I would embrace an all-encompassing objective. We cannot hide the truth of our situation; we need to address problems of the past," says Mtshali.

, director - new business development at , concurs. "At a future time, we can hope to concentrate on competitive economic issues only, as other economies and societies that didn`t have apartheid, can now. At this stage, however, we must work with and accept the requirement for BEE, in all its dimensions. This is a prerequisite for future growth and competitiveness of our sector in the global arena."

Perhaps the most compelling argument against the concept is that of Prof. Roger Sinclair, director, Brand Leadership: "I would strong advise that Proudly SA steers clear of BEE. It is necessary [in fact essential], but there seem to be no conditions under which it could be made a positive dimension of Proudly SA. Apart from anything else, it is supposed to have no more than a ten-year life span. I always see BEE as no more than a leveller. It does not help very much, but you cannot do without it."

He adds: "If we are to make our IT companies more competitive in the global sense then we have to promote the idea of SA as an IT centre of excellence. That is what the Singaporeans did four decades ago, followed by the Malaysians, Koreans, Japanese and now the Indians. It is not impossible."


Just like old habits die hard, it seems that existing perceptions of Proudly SA and BEE will prevail and, for now at least, the concept will have to take a backseat - until government deems transformation to be sufficient.

Some will no doubt opt for making the global grade, featuring one set of standards, while others will embrace the BEE codes of good business practice. And in between, patriotism and marketing hype will spur some into meeting the standards deemed necessary to become Proudly SA.

There will, of course, also be exceptions. Companies that do not mind complying with three different accreditation systems - BEE, BBBEE and PSA - even if they could potentially be in conflict for status and recognition.

A pity indeed, considering that companies pay 0.1% on the sales of their products or service each year in order to remain Proudly SA - funds that could potentially have made quite a difference to advancing the transformation cause, if it were part of a new and all-inclusive brand.

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