The high point of my recent visit to South Africa was the moment when I stood at the iconic Cape of Good Hope. A place of stunning natural beauty, this is one of the southern tips of the African continent, located between two major ocean currents. This is also the famous cape around which Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama travelled, as he discovered the sea route to India.

Standing on these spectacular coastal cliffs, and looking out at the Atlantic Ocean, I suddenly sighted a humpback whale and stood transfixed for a few minutes, watching its dark grey body and spout, which blew like a fountain. In front of me was the vast, rugged Table Mountain National Park, home to at least 250 species of birds, including the African Penguins.

As I walked down the mountain, I thought to myself, this is virtually heaven on earth. No wonder South Africans are so proud of the natural beauty their country offers. The Table Mountain, beaches and oceans, and, of course, the forests and wildlife — these are not man-made jungles that you see here, on the other hand, these are the jungles where man was made.

I was soon to discover that South Africans take great pride in so many other aspects of their country and the wider African continent. While this is admittedly a nation with lots of inequality, much like India, I saw far greater expression of national and African pride by marketers, brands and retailers in the city of Cape Town, than I have seen in most other countries.

In Woolworths, one of South Africa’s leading food and grocery retail stores, I was greeted by a huge sign that said — “90% of our produce is grown in South Africa. Love Local.” Most of the fruits and vegetables sold in this excellent store were proudly marked out as being of local origin. Rarely have I seen similar expressions of patriotic pride in Indian food and grocery stores.

Down the road, the story of African cocoa came to life through a very special African collection of chocolates from De Villiers, each pack carrying the prominent mark “Grown and crafted in Africa by Africans”.

Chocolate and wine too

The kiosk selling these chocolates informed us that Africa produces 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa, and so the De Villiers brand has taken it upon itself to celebrate and acknowledge the African cocoa farmer. The African collection that I saw here boasted high-quality cocoa beans from the Bundibugyo district of Uganda. Even the wrapper artwork was taken from paintings done by an African artist Marien Freddy Nsompy.

Later, my colleagues and I stopped by at the Graff Winery, located amongst lush green vineyards in the Stellenbosch area of South Africa. Here again, I saw a celebration of South Africa, as the marketers of this wine estate spoke about how they capture the “natural flavours and intensity of South African sunshine” in their celebrated Delaire Graff bottles of wine.

I paused for a moment and reflected on the beauty of this expression — pride in the sunshine of one’s country is quite unique!

Walking through the V&A Waterfront Mall in Cape Town that evening, I came across so many more spontaneous expressions of African pride. An elegant store called Africology offered skin care, aromatherapy and related products, all sourced from African herbs and ingredients. Close by, a display in a local café spoke about how it offers coffees sourced exclusively from Africa. For instance, coffee beans from the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, where rich volcanic soils produce a unique coffee with brown sugar aroma, dark chocolate flavour and a berry finish.

The packet in which this coffee is sold completes this beautiful African story, when it says “You are always welcome to visit a Tanzanian coffee farmer in their home. Call out “Hodi” before entering, and if the response is “Karibu” (i.e. you are welcome), then you may enter and have coffee with the African farmer.”

Later, I found that there has been active encouragement for South African brands to consciously promote the country of their origin, because commercial brands are seen as a key component of a strong nation brand.

The “Proudly South African” campaign is a marketing campaign and logo that has been in place since 2001, born out of a Presidential Jobs summit convened by former President Nelson Mandela. Increased sales of local produce clearly means more employment, and therefore less poverty.

The “Proudly South African” logo, which sports the colours of the national flag, can be used by products where local content is at least 50 per cent of the final cost of production, along with proof of excellence in quality.

Over 2,000 companies and brands have featured this logo prominently, contributing to nation building. Just last year, this “buy local” campaign also launched its own online shopping platform. Just before I boarded my return flight from Cape Town to Mumbai, I reflected on some lessons for India, and our own marketers. Would a “Proudly Indian” campaign and mark help bring forth the feeling of patriotic nationalism that is so deeply embedded amongst millions of Indians, and is on the rise today? Perhaps a few of our brands that are rooted in Indian heritage (such as Fabindia, Amul, and Tata Salt) have been doing this, but the potential is far greater, and encompasses so many more product categories.

As my aircraft took off into the skies, I caught a last glimpse of the Table Mountain. A timeless symbol of beautiful, resilient and proud South Africa.

Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons, and author of “The Curious Marketer”. bhatharish@hotmail.com

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