'Zuma has little impact on SA's reputation'

Scandals involving President Jacob Zuma have little impact on South Africa's reputation in the US, Brand SA country manager Simon Barber said on Friday.

South Africans were more worried about issues such as the R246 million upgrade to Zuma's private home in Nkandla, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, he said in Washington.

"This stuff isn't being followed [in the US] and it's pretty much inside baseball.

"Let's be honest, from a US point of view, so the president has his compound in KZN which costs 20 million US dollars. Well, you know, in this country people in New York buy apartments for 20 million US dollars. So I don't think people are widely stunned by that," he said.

"That's our politics, it doesn't say an awful lot about the country as a whole."

South Africa's asset was that in the US it was seen as the country of former president Nelson Mandela.

"That still resonates strongly with the United States," Barber said.

"Record numbers of Americans are going into South Africa for holidays and business, 300,000 last year, and all of them are coming back with a good story to tell."

In terms of business interest, US investors could be more concerned with issues of labour unrest.

However South Africans, sitting in South Africa, were not very good at looking at the country in context, Barber said.

"We are not the only emerging market that had labour unrest, so it's been a problem for us right now... [but] in the broader scheme of things we not that unusual," he said.

The country has just come out of a five-month strike in the platinum mining sector and a four week strike in the metals and engineering sector.

Barber was speaking ahead of the US-Africa Leaders' Summit, which is being held in Washington next week.

A South African delegation, led by Zuma, will be attending the summit.

Barber said in terms of US interest, South Africa had a boring story at the moment.

The strikes on Gaza, the clashes between Russia and the Ukraine, and Boko Haram in Nigeria where taking most of the focus.

"The old news line is 'if it bleeds it leads'. Well, we not bleeding relatively speaking.

"There isn't blood running in our streets, our girls are not being kidnapped by religious fanatics, we aren't at war or bombing anybody. We look pretty good right now," he said.

However, there were a number of stereotypes about South Africa and Africa.

Many people in the US did not see South Africa as having an advanced manufacturing sector.

"When you tell them that 3 Series BMW you see parked over there could well have been made in Pretoria... they stunned."

Brand SA in the US was trying to change that perception, Barber said.

*Flight and hotel costs for Sapa's reporter covering the summit were paid by the presidency.*


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