Despite ongoing political turmoil and an increase in policy uncertainty, South Africa made a surprise recovery in the 2017 edition of a global reputation study, rising four places to 45 out of 71 countries measured.
Unveiling the results of the latest Country RepTrak study, which was compiled by Reputation House in association with the Reputation Institute, Reputation House chairperson Dr Dominik Heil noted that the improved performance was off a low 2016 base.
Nevertheless, he told an audience at Wits Business School late last month that the improvement in South Africa’s score to 55.1 points, from 49.2 points in the previous year, was confirmed by responses received from both South Africans, as well as those surveyed in the G8 countries of the UK, Russia, Canada, France, the US, Italy, Japan and Germany.
Countries are scored out of 100 and the ranking is based on the responses of more than 39 000 people, who offered online feedback regarding their perceptions as to whether a country’s environment was appealing, its government was effective and whether its economy was advanced.
Canada and Switzerland topped the ranking with scores of 82.8, while the US recorded the biggest drop in reputation from a score of 59.5 in 2016 to 54.7 this year. America’s decline saw it rank below South Africa in 2017, at position 47.
Heil acknowledged that the online survey had been finalised ahead of President Jacob Zuma’s late-night March 31 Cabinet reshuffle, as well as the downgrade-triggering removal of Pravin Gordhan as Finance Minister and the revelations contained in leaked emails relating to the influence of the Gupta family over certain government and State-owned-company officials.
Nevertheless, he said the results, particularly the G8 results, were unlikely to have been materially different even if the survey had been completed after those events. In addition, he noted that the domestic responses relating to whether South Africa was an “ethical country with high transparency and low corruption” could not have been much more negative, as they already scored the country at the bottom of the range globally and well below that of the G8 responses to the same question.
Among the Brics countries of South Africa, Brazil, Russia, India and China, South Africa ranked third, behind Brazil (34) and India (37), but ahead of China and Russia. Morocco, at position 34, emerged as the African reputation leader, ahead of South Africa, Egypt (50), Angola (64), Algeria (65) and Nigeria (68).
“South Africa’s reputation is surprisingly robust. We, however, see that people in the G8 are much less aware of the high levels of corruption and lack of safety in South Africa, compared with those who live in the country. [But], in spite of their awareness of the challenges, South Africans have increased confidence that their country will resolve its issues,” Heil explained.
Although less optimistic than the G8 respondents, South Africans still scored the country at 43.3 points, which was 14 points higher than last year’s score of 29.3.
The two areas in which South African and G8 respondents rated the country highly related to the natural beauty of the country and the friendliness of its people. A new development in the attitude of South Africans towards their own country was the emphasis they gave to the value of education in the 2017 survey.
“If we want to get our reputation right, we need to make sure that we resolve the corruption and make South Africa a safe place. A reputation risk analysis also indicates issues of governance as South Africa’s high priority risks that have to be managed,” Heil said.
However, there was also opportunity to communicate more about South Africa’s environmental appeal to bolster the country’s reputational standing.