3 October 2011Brand South Africa last week played host to a group of international journalists from three continents, who were here to gain exposure to South African government and business, experience local life and culture, and learn about the country’s latest technological developments.The aim was to build solid, constructive relationships with the media in target markets, especially where Brand SA does not have an office. The visiting journalists hailed from Angola, Brazil, Egypt, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.The tour aimed to promote a more positive perception of South Africa internationally, and, through reporting in overseas media, a greater global awareness of the progress South Africa has made in education, health, infrastructure and other key aspects.The group was welcomed by Brand SA CEO Miller Matola, Brand SA chairperson Anitha Soni, and prominent government representatives, at a dinner at the Lekgotla Restaurant in Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton on Tuesday.Matola spoke of the Play Your Part campaign, a countrywide initiative that encourages all South Africans to contribute towards caring for themselves, their fellow citizens, and the environment.“We hope to encourage all South Africans to listen to their social conscience and get involved in activities that will make a positive difference to the environment,” he said.On behalf of Brand South Africa, he asked the journalists to “continue to shape the image of Africa, and to set an agenda to drive the continent’s reputation, image and competitiveness.”Soni said that South Africa was on an “aggressive economic development drive, evolving for the future … Improved technology and infrastructure facilitates global competitiveness and creates an enabling trade and investment environment.”Deputy Minister in the Presidency Dina Pule closed off the evening, saying: “Through Brand South Africa, the government will use this platform to share our varied yet aligned messages to garner support from you, our media partners, so that you can experience our country and tell our story from an informed perspective.”On Wednesday, the group started the day with a business breakfast with representatives from the Banking Association of South Africa. Here they learned more about South Africa’s banking system, rated as one of the best and most secure in the world.Afterwards they again experienced the comfort and convenience of the Gautrain. On arrival in South Africa they had travelled on the high-speed train from OR Tambo International Airport to Sandton, a trip that takes about 15 minutes but which could take up to an hour or more on the road.Addressing climate changeNext up was a visit to the offices of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in Pretoria.Here the group met with Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who briefed them on South Africa’s preparations to host the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban in November.Mashabane is the incoming president of the gathering, and assured the group that preparations were on track and progressing well.“Climate change is one of the most [pressing issues affecting us today,” she said. “We are striving for a comprehensive, balanced and ambitious result in Durban.”The minister said that one of the priorities would be to work through unresolved issues from the 2007 gathering in Bali. She also mentioned that the implementation of adaptation activities is key, and that the conference is also hoping to reach finalisation on the Green Climate Fund.“We are expecting about 30 000 delegates, 20 000 of whom are from official delegations,” she said.After a lively question and answer session, an indication of the interest from the media in this important event, the group departed for the offices of the health ministry in central Pretoria.National Health Insurance questions answeredHealth minister Aaron Motsaoledi did not mince his words as he described the present chaotic state of South Africa’s health system, and emphasised that the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme cannot be held off any longer if the majority of citizens are to get access to decenthealthcare.“South Africa makes up 0.7% of the world’s population, but it carries 17% of the HIV/Aids burden,” he said. “With tuberculosis, we are top of the list of all countries in terms of the percentage of population infected. We have a huge disease profile, but we don’t have the resources to properly address it.”The minister said that a national health insurance scheme is not a new concept, but that it had been under consideration since before the apartheid government came into power in the late 1940s.However, the new regime wasn’t interested in an equal system of healthcare and the idea was shelved until the arrival of a democratic government in 1994.Over-commercialisation of the private healthcare system was a big problem today. “It’s all about the return on investment,” he said. “These private clinics are run with more concern on the profits than on treating sick or injured people.”In terms of section 27 of South Africa’s Constitution, no person may be refused access to emergency care.“But now, unless you have private health insurance you can die from your injuries if you have an accident outside the door of a private clinic, as they will refuse to even touch you if you can’t pay thousands up front.”This was totally unacceptable, said Motsoaledi, because it was discriminatory. The NHI would help to bridge this gap by making it possible for all citizens to have access to quality healthcare, no matter where they were.Looking into space for answersFrom Pretoria, the group paid a visit to HartRAO, the radio astronomy observatory at Hartebeesthoek, 50km west of Johannesburg. The facility started up as Nasa’s Deep Space Instrumentation Facility 51.Here they were given an overview of South Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), an instrument that will be able to peer deep into the universe and answer many unresolved questions.The SKA will comprise an array of radio telescopes that together provide a reception area of a square kilometre. It will stretch over much of Southern Africa and will involve eight countries in the region.Dr Michael Gaylard, the facility’s acting MD, showed the journalists some of the important equipment operated and maintained by scientists at the observatory. A 26m telescope built by Nasa in the 1950s has been converted to receive radio signals and is used to track pulsar timing. Ownership of the dish has now passed to South Africa.HartRAO also operates a Nasa-owned satellite laser ranger that accurately measures the orbits of satellites, including positioning satellites. Finally, the group was introduced to the first prototype of the low-cost radio telescope designed in South Africa for the SKA and its precursors, the Meerkat and Kat-7 arrays.On Friday, the group headed to Cape Town, where they inspected renewable energy production on the province’s west coast, experienced the iconic Table Mountain up close, and visited a successful wine farm.MediaClubSouthAfrica.com reporter – get free high-resolution photos and professional feature articles from Brand South Africa’s media service.