In South Africa colonialism is a rude word that regularly sparks bitter rows and sends vitriol flying in all directions on social media.
Yet, visit some African countries and it’s difficult, so to speak, to see the wood for the South African brands. Zambia is a case in point.
I took these photos recently in a single morning driving around Lusaka. The roadsides are lined with big and small billboards, many of them for South African brands such as DStv, Standard Bank, FNB and Shoprite.
The most visible was MTN, a name splashed across huge billboards and the ubiquitous, tiny roadside kiosks selling a variety of services from data and airtime, to sending money via mobile phones.
It’s a form of reverse economic colonisation, as South African brands operating in a sluggish market and with cash to spend on expansion, have moved north into Africa as part of their growth strategies.
The worst are the big Zambian malls, which could easily be mistaken for being located in South Africa, with local businesses swamped by a Who’s Who of Big Biz SA.
You name it and they’re there: supermarket chains, jewellers, pizza and burger joints, hardware, banks… and many more. I didn’t go into any of the supermarkets, but I’d be surprised if their shelves aren’t jam packed with South African brands and products.
But it doesn’t end with Zambia, which admittedly is an extreme example of the colonisation of some African countries by South African brands. For example, Namibia, Nigeria, Botswana, Lesotho and many other countries have been infiltrated – to a lesser degree – by the Big Brother of the South.
And with South African brands coming spectacularly short in the more developed countries – think of Woolworths’ disastrous investment in Australia – you can expect more and more South African brands to look north into Africa.
So next time you hear someone banging on about colonialism, you can remind them of how South African brands are storming into Africa.
Raymond Joseph is a Cape Town-based freelance journalist and media trainer.
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