A few months ago a newcomer hit the detergent aisle at your local supermarket: Ariel, promising to remove stains from your clothes the first time around. The green-and-red logo appeared on billboards and graced in-store promotion stands. Its price undercut the other staples in housewives’ cupboards, like Omo, Skip and Surf, by a couple of rand. The only problem (perhaps you didn’t notice) is that Ariel is made in France. First-world, prosperous, EU-subsidised France.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m the biggest francophile around, but why buy a product from a country that doesn’t need our support? The cows in France enjoy more government benefits than poor South Africans do. Good-old Omo, the one your mother and grandmother both used, is made in KwaZulu-Natal (look at the packaging if you want to make sure). That means if I buy Omo (or Skip or Surf, for that matter) I’m supporting local jobs and local industry. Why isn’t it more obvious to consumers where their loyalty should lie?
Years ago, while visiting family in Australia, I was struck how aggressive the Aussies were about marketing locally-made products. Every time you picked up a T-shirt or a fluffy toy wombat, you were greeted with the words, ‘Made in Australia’ or, as a booby prize, ‘Designed in Australia’ (but probably made in China). Why can’t Proudly SA launch a similar campaign here? You really have to read the fine print before realising where something is made.
Coenraad Bezuidenhout, executive director of the Manufacturing Circle, acknowledges that Proudly SA could be doing more, but says because it falls under the Department of Trade and Industry, it is prone to political inertia. He believes Proudly SA would be in a much better position if it was re-established as a special-purpose vehicle, governed by the private sector and accountable to government for co-funding of its activities and campaigns. ‘The private sector should be directly responsible for ensuring the value proposition they require for their buy-in,’ says Bezuidenhout, ‘which is essentially what would make or break the campaign and ensure its visibility.’
Of course, strained labour relations don’t help matters much. Strike season is always a time when you realise just how big a risk international investors make when they decide to set up shop here. Add to this the rising cost of electricity, fuel and water, the dwindling amount of money in most consumers’ back pockets and the flood of cheap imports from Asia, and the picture isn’t pretty.
But Bezuidenhout believes there is reason for optimism, if some of these challenges can be adequately addressed. ‘South Africa has immense potential as a manufacturing economy,’ he says. ‘We manufacture quality, we have relatively good infrastructure and networks, industrial policy incentives are improving and then of course there is Africa, where in the next decade demand will be driven by greater urbanisation than anywhere else in the world.’
If we can fuel the passion to support ‘local is lekker’, just like we love supporting SA films and our favourite sports teams, then there is indeed hope. Just think twice before you reach out for Ariel the next time you go shopping.