Leslie Sedibe is a proud South African and speaks passionately about his country whenever he gets a chance to do so.
As the Chief Executive Officer of Proudly South African, many say he is probably the best man for the job. I caught up with him at his office in Sandton, Johannesburg, where he leads a small team of employees in a robust campaign to market South Africa and its products. It is not an easy task considering the wide range of attractive international products that are on offer every day. From the latest smart phones, American-made denim jeans to top of the range German cars – consumers are spoilt for choice.
But as evident during our 30-minute interview, Sedibe’s main task is to ensure that South Africans are proud of that which makes this country great. He seems to get annoyed when talking about South Africans choosing to buy foreign made products over locally produced goods. If it were up to him, he would introduce a rule that compels South Africans to buy local every time they shop particularly for clothing. He bemoans the fact that thousands of people were losing their jobs in the textile industry partly because a number of South Africans choose to buy imported designer labels.
But Sedibe, a lawyer by profession, believes the campaigns he leads at Proudly South African will go a long way in educating South Africans about the importance of going for locally-produced goods and services.
He has served South Africa in many capacities, including working for the Independent Electoral Commission, at the dawn of democracy in South Africa in 1994. He has been Chief Executive Officer of South African Football Association from 2010 to 2011 and the Legal Manager for the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa. He served on the board of the SABC and showed his hand when the public broadcaster was looking for a group CEO in 2011.
His love for South Africa is what gets him out of bed every morning.
Sedibe’s first task at Proudly SA was to reposition the brand and ensure that more South Africans understand its ethos. To achieve this, he had to set himself four goals: to ensure more South Africans buy local, the country produces quality products, campaigning for fair labour standards as well as protecting the environment.
First conceived at the Presidential Job Summit in 1998, the Proudly South African campaign was born out of a socio-economic necessity to create jobs, under the leadership of the former South African President, Nelson Mandela. Through the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC), the campaign was launched in 2001 and supported by government, organised business and labour. Proudly SA also promotes national pride, patriotism and social cohesion.
As the nation marks tourism and heritage month during September, Sedibe emphasises the fact that the more positive South Africans are about their country, the more visitors are likely to visit our shores.
“I think that South Africa needs more and more people to dedicate themselves and their lives to better position South Africa. One of the things really strongly influence me is what Madiba spoke about in parliament after 10 years of democracy. He said his wish for South Africa is that South Africans should never give up on the belief in goodness.”
Sedibe thinks that in the past 20 years, the country has made great strides in terms of improving the lives of ordinary people. South Africa is not what it looked like when it embarked on new transition in 1994. Beyond that, the country’s infrastructure has developed tremendously.
“The fact that people can vote, the fact that government has set itself key priorities around education, health, job creation, the fight against crime and corruption and the issue of land reform – all of these things should make you proud to be South African.
“We will have challenges, but I think we are doing very well.”
Under Sedibe’s leadership, Proudly South African has been vigorous in its ‘buy local’ campaign and many seem to be heeding the call. The campaign seeks to promote South African companies, products and services which are actively helping to create jobs and economic growth.
He repeatedly states during our conversation that when consumers buy locally produced products and support local service providers, the local economy is stimulated and sustainable job opportunities are created. A wide range of organisations including companies, parastatals, government departments, municipalities, universities, local communities and other Proudly South African members are giving preference to the products and services of Proudly South African companies when they buy or procure goods and services.
Recently, Proudly SA introduced the Ubuntu campaign against sexual violence and bullying in schools. If anything, the campaign has shown a pressing need for guidance, mentorship, vision, discipline and encouragement in schools. The Ubuntu campaign was launched following the violent gang rape of a Soweto teenager in April this year. The Department of Basic Education, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Film and Publication Board were key partners in visits to schools.
Sedibe is firm in his belief that more South Africans need to be a marketing agency for the country.
“What we really need as South Africans [is] to speak well and positively about our country. There’s a very good reason for that. I think we need to be very careful as South Africans about what we say about our country because you could be the only person that the world will interact with to know South Africa. If you say negative things about South Africa then people will have a negative view about South Africa.”.
Sedibe is adamant South Africans will never see the value of a South African product unless they have pride about who they are and that they are creative.
He says the role of Proudly South African is to reach out to SA’s citizens to say they must support South African businesses. Sedibe’s argument is that while South Africans should not be opposed to imported goods, they should never be apologetic for supporting local products.
“We do not want to be perceived as a xenophobic movement. We love South Africa and you can love without hating. We are saying South Africa is open for business and that is why in the day of the struggle the liberation movement sought to ensure that apartheid South Africa is isolated from the international world. Now we are part of the world and we cannot send out messages that contradict that.
“What we say though is that the more South Africans consume foreign products at the expense of South Africa, the more we deepen the crisis which South Africa finds itself in which is deindustrialisation. We need to industrialise, we need to create black industrialists”.
Sedibe says to achieve a successful industrialisation South Africa should oppose what he describes as ‘illegal dumping’ of foreign products in the country. According to him, illegal dumping occurs when for instance products are sell expensive in their country of origin but sell cheaper in other parts of the world.
“So if a chicken costs R20 in Brazil and the same Brazillian chicken sells for R10 in South Africa. That’s dumping in our books. Our mandate is to go out to the rest of the international community to say South Africa is open for business and you can make those goods here in South Africa.”
But Sedibe is not naïve to the fact that tourism remains the lifeblood of the economy for many countries. Tourists remain critical in growing South Africa’s economy. He cites statistics which indicate that for every eighth tourist that arrives in South Africa, one person gets a job.
He also encourages South Africans to travel more within their own country. “There are people who live in Soweto and they have never been in Pretoria and that can’t be right.”
And while he may be driving an imported vehicle himself, Sedibe’s love for South Africa and its products is undeniable.