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Learn the lingo – Why McDonalds got it right and Coca-Cola got it wrong.

I always think that people who are natives of a country; where there are only two official languages have one less thing to worry about in their lives. My country, South Africa, has eleven official languages and that obviously is one of the things that make us a proud rainbow nation. However, if you can speak only two of these eleven, it can sometimes pose a challenge. I often tell my friends who grew up in the province of Gauteng just how blessed they are that they can speak 50% or even more of the eleven languages.

South Africa has nine provinces and Gauteng is the one province where there is a serious mix of people from literally all walks of life. This is because Gauteng houses Johannesburg which is the economic power hub of Southern Africa. My friends from Gauteng don’t know this, but I am sometimes very uncomfortable when I go to meet their parents and I have to speak my language or English so we can understand each other better. Now I can understand some of the languages, but responding is a mission. Fortunately, most of their families can speak my language but I still feel really bad when they have to adjust their dialogues just to accommodate me.

Beyond just my friend’s families, navigating your way in public spaces in Johannesburg when you don’t speak some of the languages can be a bit problematic. Most South Africans would agree that Johannesburg is the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” and most of us come here because of the vastness of opportunities available. Whether I am catching a taxi; or trying to respond to an elderly person; or asking for something at the grocery store, I have noticed that when I make an attempt to answer the person in their language there is an automatic connection and when they pick up my limited vocabulary and my “shabby” accent they become more understanding and we able to meet each other half way and speak a language that serves us both.

I think we need to begin to appreciate that speaking someone’s language or being culturally sensitive is not just “pink and fluffy”. A language is not only about the verbal expressions, but sometimes it can embody the very essence of a nation’s identity. And in this global village, in order to be truly successful we have to be able to adjust and “speak” the language and culture of others.

Two interesting cases come to mind when I think of cultural understanding equaling success for one and failure for the other. When McDonalds was intending to launch in India it was completely willing to localize its offerings. India was a unique and very conservative market because most of the Indian population is vegetarian and they don’t eat beef and pork. As most of us are aware, beef is one of the core ingredients of the McDonalds brand; however in India, McDonalds adopted a concept called Glocalization (Globalization + Localization).They intended to obviously maintain global standards whilst also meeting the needs of the local customer ( and Though it was an expense to localize for India, it paid off big time. They adopted a very authentic Indian menu comprising of chicken, fish and vegetarian meals and what a success it has proved to be.

When Coca-Cola initially launched its sales campaign in Saudi Arabia it was not so successful. Since their sales team couldn’t speak Arabic and most of the Saudis didn’t speak much English they thought surely simple pictures would work to portray the message and they believed that to be a brilliant idea. So they put together three simple pictures and these were meant to be a story line:

  • Picture one showed a man lying in the hot desert sand totally exhausted and fainting.
  • Picture two then shows a man drinking Coca-Cola
  • Picture three shows the man now totally refreshed and on his feet running.

The simple message was meant to say that when you feeling exhausted because of the desert heat, have sip of coca-cola and you will regain your energy. Sounds simple enough right?

Wrong! What Coca-Cola failed to do was be culturally sensitive by speaking in a way relevant to the Saudis. The rest of the world read left to right however, Arabic readers go from right to left. To the Arabic people the advert read, when you feeling energetic (picture 3) take a sip of Coca-Cola (picture 2) you will faint and be exhausted (picture 1) ( This obviously miscommunicated the intended message because to them it said stay away from Coca-Cola it will cause you to be dehydrated and faint. I do believe though that Coca-Cola has bounced back since then by investing a couple of million dollars into the Saudi Arabia market.

I think we can learn some interesting lessons from these multinational corporations and perhaps we can start becoming more aware of the languages and cultures of others around us and perhaps go further by engaging in a lingo that serves others. My friend, trust me when I say authentic human connections are more likely to be the new success in the near future.

Our democracy is…

“The people of South Africa have spoken in these elections. They want change! And change is what they will get. Our plan is to create jobs, promote peace and reconciliation, and to guarantee freedom for all South Africans. We will tackle the widespread poverty so pervasive among the majority of our people. By encouraging investors and the democratic state to support job creating projects…” Nelson Mandela Inaugural Address, 09 May 1994.

These words from our former president were received with tremendous joy by most South Africans; they spoke of a new chapter and the very essence of a rainbow nation. The ambitious Reconstruction and Development Plan that Mandela spoke of in his inaugural speech, was abandoned after two years of its inception due to its flawed implementation. Then the baton was handed over to the Mbeki administration who implemented GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution) which was aimed at cutting apartheid-era debt.

The big question is, more than two decades into our democracy, how do the youth perceive the state of our nation? The real truth is that the opinions amongst South African youth are as vast as the ocean but one thing is common, the youth is angry and frustrated. Yes there is acknowledgement that so much good has come in the form of opportunities for those previously marginalised. But the struggle really continues. South Africa is divided. Some feel there is still vast inequalities, and believe that during the transition period people who had been tormented during Apartheid were asked to forgive and forget too quickly. Matters were swept under the carpet for the sake of peace. People are upset with the ANC, but they don’t trust opposition parties like the DA because they feel that underlying them is a white supremacist agenda.

The struggle continues in different forms, black youth are encouraged go to school; get good grades; get degrees but then they fall within the unemployment statistics again. Sometimes they need to fight their way into graduate programmes, just to prove themselves so that they can at least land a contract to pay off their student loans. Amongst the student loans, their salaries also need to provide for their families and in most instances the youth end up in a vicious cycle of debt.

Others believe that the new South Africa has created an elite black middle class. A lot more black people have been given access to power in the different factions of society, and the question that is being posed is what are they doing with it? But the issue is also much deeper than this, in that, this has created a unique social stratification where the poor aren’t just black and the rich aren’t just white. The rich become richer and the poor become poorer. The wealth that was meant to be redistributed for the betterment of all has been stuck with a fortunate few.

Those who have benefited from the opportunities afforded post apartheid believe that this poor political leadership crisis is not necessarily a situation unique to South Africa, but that actually there is a global crisis politically and economically and that in itself has had a tremendous negative impact on Africa and South Africa. A common perception shared by most of the youth is that our democracy is threatened. And there are three major issues which pose a threat to the very essence of our democracy; these are poor leadership; high unemployment rate and the declining education system.

Our current National Development plan (NDP) presents a sound proposal on how we can make South Africa a prosperous country, free of unemployment by 2030. It speaks to improving our education system, labour market and other spheres of society but will require much hard work. There is a shared sense amongst South Africans of every race that we need to choose a political leadership that will actively focus on the provision of basic services like water and housing; education and employment thereby restoring dignity to our people and our Democracy.  Nelson Mandela and many others who were the founding fathers of our democracy were all about that.

Perhaps we have to come to an understanding that, Our Democracy is a continuing journey of ups and downs, and right now we are experiencing some of the downs. We need to realize that it’s not just one person who can help South Africa but that we actually need an influential network of like-minded people.

Special thanks to Siphokazi Ntetha, Lihle Malwandla, Dineo Makuru, Kagiso Dlodlo, Tshepo Sesioana and Snenhlanhla Hlengwa who contributed their invaluable comments for this piece.

Now I know why they taught us comprehension…

One of my favourite subjects at school was English. I had a really fantastic English teacher in High School, but I must be honest I never understood why we had to learn about Shakespeare and all the stories he wrote. But when I comfort myself; I suppose it was always the moral of the stories more than anything and the moral is something that cuts across every generation.

One of the things I’m glad we were taught was comprehension. I’m sure we all remember from our English classes the comprehension exercises we often did. I recall how we would be given a short paragraph or a short essay on a particular topic. We would be asked to thoroughly read the paragraph and as my teacher would say ‘ensure you read it more than once before you are able to answer questions’. To test if you really comprehended what you read, we were given a set of questions that we were required to answer. If you consistently scored good grades on your comprehension exercises, your teacher was pleased with your comprehension skills and your overall command of the English language, as comprehension used to carry a significant weighting towards your overall English mark. If we were given a take home assessment we were often encouraged to seek other sources over and above the paragraph to assist us in answering the questions more robustly.

Comprehension simply means “The ability to understand something”.

Why I am sharing about this? It recently hit me that we were raised to believe that going to school had a one dimensional purpose (i.e. getting good grades in order to go to University and get a good job). Though that is partly true and is the common reality, but I think we don’t appreciate enough the foundation, for life, that our teachers were giving us.

I believe that we were actually being given mental tools to know how to navigate this interesting and difficult journey of life. We need to be able to comprehend situations accordingly. I say this because we are increasingly living in a period where we have allowed the media to become the predominant source by which we understand the world around us. The initial role of the media was to serve as an independent body that provided us information about what is happening around us and we would then conclude for ourselves about what is truth and what is fiction.

I spoke about the comprehension exercise earlier because I believe our teachers were in some way trying to equip us with the ability to thoroughly understand situations we face on a daily basis and not just take things at face value. They asked us questions so that from our own perspective we could engage with the information and provide our own viewpoints. They even encouraged us to seek additional sources of information so that we come to understand that there is often more than one side to every story. We were being built up so that we could concurrently be independent and collective thinkers who are able to apply the knowledge we have gathered accordingly.

Full, thin or curvy…thou art worthy…don’t you think?

My family and I were watching the crowning of Miss South Africa 2017 a few Sundays ago and I just want to extend my congratulations to Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters for taking the crown.

When we were watching the show, I nudged my sister just a little bit and said to her ‘remember my silly attempt at entering Miss South Africa?’ she was like ‘yup’ and we both just laughed. Looking at those girls on Sunday I was like ‘what the heck was I thinking!?’ Yes folks, in 2014 I sent my application for the Miss South Africa 2015 pageant and even went for a proper photo shoot. And guess what! I was called in for the casting, but I got cold feet so I didn’t go. In my mediocre analysis, I think more than anything the selection committee must have been impressed with my motivation letter. It was very powerful even if I say so myself.

After our laughs, my sister soon shed light and said ‘but you know what Bongs, you were not being silly, remember the passion, and your reasoning, think of that and I actually think you would have won if you had gone to the casting.’ I don’t know whether she was saying this because she is my sister and her confidence in me could be bias but a part of me felt that perhaps she was on to something.

My desire in entering the pageant was completely revolutionary. I remember when I shared  with my very supportive friends and my now ex-colleagues and close friends about my reasoning behind entering the pageant.

I must say, based on what I observed they were very supportive but we may never know if they laughed behind closed doors. Quite frankly, if they did laugh I wouldn’t have held it against them because reality is; girls like me don’t enter pageants of that magnitude and be considered.

So why did I send my application? Well, trust me when I say my desire was not to parade on stage as a beauty queen and be crowned the most beautiful woman in the country, but I felt that somebody needed to challenge this notion of what a “Miss South Africa” should look like. Pardon me for saying this, but for far too long we have been made to believe a perception of beauty that is one dimensional. Over the years, I have witnessed many beautiful & graceful women of South Africa, who have paraded the stages of Miss SA pageants and marvelled at their physical beauty as something out of reach for me as an ordinary average woman. Becoming Miss SA 2015 would have given me a platform to echo two key messages to people.

Firstly, If I won, it would be a message of the least likely candidate (typical girl next door) taking the throne. It would echo a message to motivate young people to believe that all things are possible and that we should never give up on our dreams despite the unfavourable circumstances. Secondly, I wanted to be a gift to my country. I believe that when we all discover our true purpose there should be no room for competition, but we will complement each other. I wanted to you use the Miss SA platform to emancipate people’s thinking and to serve as an activist for the further entrenching of Human Rights. I ponder about this and think these are the kind of things Madiba and his counter parts fought for. They wanted to see a generation of young people who will be bold to challenge the status quo and redefine perceptions around anything. In this case, I wanted to redefine beauty and what it truly means to be a South African and reawaken the “Ubuntu” and servitude spirit in all of us.

I know this is one of those topics where there will always be constant ongoing dialogue and debate, and there are many interesting sides to this debate. I’ve heard a lot of people echo that our African pageants should feature women who are curvy or fuller because that’s what an African woman looks like.

However, we must be careful how we use words in this context, as my sister always points out, ‘does it mean because I am very thin that I am not an African woman?’ I think perhaps the appropriate way to say this is that our African Pageants should be more inclusive of women who come in different shapes and sizes. When I read most of the requirements of what a Miss South Africa should be (i.e. passionate about social injustices; educated and pursing a vibrant career; great role model; great interpersonal skills; etc). I know a lot of ordinary women who fit that description, but will not qualify because of one thing, their body. I guess this is the point where the modelling industry draws the line.

Like any job, you need to have particular qualifications to occupy that position. To be a doctor you need to go to Medical school and do the necessary community service. To be a charted accountant you need your degree and to complete certain board exams and this applies to all our different industries.

What do you think? Should there be a pageant that will be inclusive of women in all sizes and shapes? Can such a pageant exist successfully? Should we be encouraging young women to be healthier or perhaps we should just leave things the way they are?

Who is my customer?

Conventional wisdom tells us that one of the most important relationships, is the relationship between the supplier and demander. A well known speaker I was listening to reminded me of something I hadn’t heard in a while. He said “in order for something to be successful the supplier has to be at the mercy of the demander. You control the market by your hunger.”

I must concur that most businesses fail not because the concept is bad but because there is no demand. No matter how great your service or product is, if there are no customers demanding it…there is no point.

You don’t own the market…the customer does. We are increasingly in a period where customers have the biggest say. Business leaders are investing millions on their customer focus units. More and more corporate strategies are gearing up in ensuring that the customer is the focal point.

As much as this statement is true for business organisations it’s also true for all those of us who wake up every day to do something. Whether you a home executive or a business executive, have you paused and asked yourself who is my customer?

The customer is always King…and I am also asking myself…Who is my customer? I often echo that I feel really called to write and share everyday wisdom in the hope that it will encourage those who read to pursue their purposes. I am hoping that whoever will read this and other column’s I’ve written, will respond and articulate whether I have adequately supplied to their demands.

The real Christmas message…

I was at our Cape Town offices last week and the place was lit with Christmas decorations. There was so much hype in the office as people were putting up these decorations. As I stood there, looking around, I realised that there was something wrong with this picture.

I realised that we have been sold a Western notion of Christmas. I mean, look at the décor you find when you walking at the mall or when you in the shops and all you see is snow; snow men; elves; reindeers etc. I mean really, in South Africa December is one of our hottest months. Christmas also has nothing to do with elves and reindeers.

But you know what, I really don’t blame people who put up these Christmas decors, because I realise that actually, some people don’t really understand the real story behind Christmas.

Hence, it is the responsibility of those of us who know, to share the truth. Well my friends I want to begin with these words taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah:

“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders and he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of peace. His government and its peace will never end.” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

In the book of John it reads “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16)

Ladies and Gentlemen, the real Christmas message is this – Jesus Christ was sent to the world because God loved us very much. The Lord’s mandate was to restore us back to himself through the birth; death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why? Because God’s original intention for mankind was for us to rule and have absolute dominion on this earth. With sin creeping in, we lost that privilege and only God (Christ) could establish that again.

So as we celebrate this time, remember Christmas is the glorious birthday of the King of Kings.

Interesting lessons from my travel diary…

My buddies and I recently viajou “travelled” to Mozambique to witness the marriage union of one of our dearest friend’s. The journey was so amazing that I had some really great moments of reflection based on the experiences I encountered. I thought it would be great to just express some of those amazing learnings below:

Number 1, Hospitality is such a great gift. Mozambique is a predominately Portuguese speaking country so majority of my friend’s family does not speak much English. But their hospitality was able to cut through and penetrate the language barrier. They were so hospitable that it felt like I was home away from home. I have been to many relatives houses and visited many people whom we speak the same language but some of them have never treated me like that family did. This left me yearning to be more hospitable in my own home.

Secondly, intolerance is the greatest enemy to seeing a united Africa. As tourists we decided to explore a bit of Maputo. As we were heading to one of the neighbouring beaches our taxi was stopped by some of the local policemen. They uttered something in Portuguese to our driver and next thing they asked two of my friend’s for their passports. Unfortunately my friends had left their passports at the house we were staying at. The policemen got really angry and demanded that my friends follow them to the police station. The rest of us pleaded with them and showed them our passports and begged that they don’t take them to the police station. We stepped out of the taxi and one of the policeman got so upset that he uttered in Portuguese that we should get back inside the taxi as this was not South Africa. The other policeman spoke a bit of broken Zulu and said that they were going to make life difficult for us because Mozambicans were being ill-treated in South Africa. We just went into prayer and all I can say is thank God a response came quick…but unfortunately the driver asked for money from us and had to bribe them not to take us to the police station. I came to a painful realisation of just how divided Africa really is.

Thirdly, what separate us are just languages and borders. As we entered Mozambique we were marvelled at how green the land was. I remember uttering words to my friend next to me and saying this feels just like another part of South Africa to me. She then went on to utter the words “my sister it’s just language and borders that separates us but at the end of the day we are all the same”…I really loved that statement and it’s so true, the earth/land in itself is the same everywhere but its human beings that have decided through certain world systems that we are different.

Fourthly, Gratitude is life giving. As we proceeded with the journey and I looked at the beautiful green landscape, I also saw some really saddening things. I saw houses which looked like match boxes and the most horrible dirt filled slums and was heart shattered at the idea that people lived in these conditions. I saw some really bad Infrastructure and bad roads and I realised that people are really poor out there. One of the things I really appreciate about travelling is that it opens up your eyes to the reality of the bigger world around you. It also leaves you full of gratitude knowing that there are so many things to be grateful for in your own country.

Finally, the selfie revolution has taken over! I was so shocked and amused as I gazed at the world around me from South Africa to Mozambique. I noticed pockets of people posing in front of the camera in both countries. There was a particular group that stood out for me; they were dressed in a church uniform and both the men and the women gathered together. One particular gentleman even went to the extent of lifting his 2 litre coca cola bottle and posing with it as if the audiences who would be looking at this picture would admire it as they would if he was posing next to a Bentley, I couldn’t help but just laugh so much at this sight…

After these five main reflections, I now understand when Saint Augustine said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page”.

Put your own mask first!

If you fly as often as I do you can sometimes take the pre-flight safety briefing for granted. You often think to yourself, argh!  I have heard this thing so many times and somehow your mind subconsciously just locks out of listening. I was on a flight to Cape Town last week and I just thought, “Bongeka if something were to happen on this flight would you really know what to do in an emergency”. I realised that my survival could hang between what I know or don’t know. So I decided you know what let me just listen to the safety briefing.

As the briefing proceeded I listened attentively, and one of the things they said really really stood out for me. They said “If there is a loss of cabin pressure, the panels above your seat will open, and oxygen masks will drop down. If this happens, place the mask over your nose and mouth, and adjust it as necessary. Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others.”

You know I often hear this over and over but for the first time in my life this sentence was life changing. I began to ask myself, why would the instruction require us to do this? I realised that the answer lies in a very simple principle. You see my friend I often echo that one can never give off what they not full off. The principle here is simple, it’s not about selfishness, but it is about understanding that unless you have something to offer you cannot be of value to anybody.

Let’s use the example of being in a plane; say you travelling with small children or you sitting next to an elderly person and all of a sudden you are required to put your oxygen masks on. Your first reaction could be reaching out and helping the children or the elderly person but as you attempt to do that, you slip into unconsciousness. Imagine how detrimental that would be because then the children and the elderly person could also slip into unconsciousness and if this happens all of you may suffer brain damage.

Right now in Africa we have a serious crisis of leadership. This leadership crisis translates itself in vast inequalities in various factions of our society. In Africa we have a lot of potential and natural resources that could help better the lives of our people, but because our politicians graduated from being freedom fighters to being heads of states we face some serious challenges.

A large majority of them are not “clothed” with the necessary knowledge and expertise. We expect politicians to lead us yet some of them have never even studied political science or law. I have realised that most things stand and fall on leadership. After the US election results today; I express this plea to all those in power- please “put your own mask first”. Leaders need to thoroughly look deep inside them to see if they have the right wisdom; insight; knowledge; passion and most importantly love to lead people the right way.

You simply cannot help someone if you are inadequate, how do you give food if you don’t have any? How do you convince people to live a victorious life in God unless you also live that life? How does a person provide medical care unless they have medical expertise? How do you teach something unless you know it?

My question-is your own mask on?

Loyal to you or loyal to our economy…

On my way to work the other day, I was listening to the radio and the guest speaker touched on a very interesting but sensitive topic. He went on to expand on how young people should consider the economic needs at the time of selecting their career paths. I must say he raised some really valid points but as I drove, I couldn’t help but ponder about this issue from a different angle.

There is a paradox inside of me around this. On the one end I am a patriot of my nation and I really believe that the wisdom and the resources to solve most of Africa’s issues do not lie overseas but within the borders of our glorious continent. So I really would like to see our economy flourish.

On the other end though, anyone who knows me knows just how passionate I am about purpose. I often echo in my circle of friends, family and colleagues about the importance of living a “purpose driven life.” I am passionate about purpose because when my purpose unfolded I understood why my life mattered.

So a question that continues to linger on my mind is, encourage young people to go into career paths that address the immediate needs of the economy or encourage young people to do what they passionate about?

But for me to truly answer this, I had to ask the question of what factors are important in aiding with a country’s economic growth/development. I opened this question up on social media and my friend’s shared some interesting insights below:

“Widespread skills; Common vision, Trust in government; Absence of corruption; Too many people studying for corporate jobs-focus on entrepreneurship from primary school; Visionary Leadership; Job creation and a focus on trade.”

You may contest that there are so many other factors that influence economic growth but the aim was not to make this an academic paper, but a simple reflection shared by an ordinary South African fascinated about the happenings in the country.

I still ponder on whether we can advise young people to cement their future on an economy that’s ever changing? And yet as I say this I am also saddened by the escalating high unemployment amongst graduates.

I am opening this up for us to have digital and face to face dialogues. My viewpoint is that we need a healthy economy. When the economy is healthy, we will have very limited dependence on the Government to supply free housing, social grants, public clinics etc. A healthy economy ensures a sustainable livelihood for the country and its occupants. I believe we need to engage more in wealth creation dialogues’ as opposed to the obsession around job creation.

The other catch 22 situation with “you have to finish university and get a corporate job mentality” is that there seems to be a rise of individuals who have great corporate jobs but are miserable. I always seem to meet people in corporate who complain about their jobs and make mention of other things they passionate about and believe that if they were courageous enough to see those passions through, those could actually be the door way to wealth.

I really like what Liz Davidson (CEO of Financial Finesse) said in her article “Eight Ways to Build Wealth like Millionaires Do – Make It A Game” She made some truly powerful reflections but there are 3 points that really stood out for me. These points were;

  • “Invent something and sell the concept”
  • “Turn your hobby into a business”
  • “Solve a problem”

These stood out because they carry the undertone of purpose and that wealth flows through engaging in society transforming actions.

As I continued to read her article, her concluding remarks really hit my core as she said “…if you can pair up your skills and talents with what you love to do, you can actually build wealth by having fun. Isn’t that how it should be?”

If we really want a future for Africa we have got to emancipate peoples thinking. I guess this might be one of those on going paradoxes but I leave you with something to ponder about. I close in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

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