GRW: A New Narrative

From the January 2017 issue.

With business confidence on the decline and stubborn reductionist stereotypes holding back international trade, there would be every reason for South African manufacturing businesses to abandon the field. But some only become more determined to succeed.

It was with more than a pinch of sarcasm that award-winning Kenyan journalist Binyavanga Wainaina suggested to always use keywords such as darkness or safari in the title when reporting on the African continent. His 2005 essay, How to Write about Africa, openly criticised the repeated use of stereotypes in mainstream media when dealing with Africa and inspired a widely acclaimed 2009 TED talk by Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adichie, which has since accumulated some 11 million views.

In her speech at the famed Oxford Playhouse, Adichie pointed out that clichés about poverty, famine and disasters dominated mainstream reporting and, as a result, the public understanding of Africa. There was rarely a rounded, balanced or nuanced approach, she said, laying bare a conflict that is still impacting almost every aspect of life on the 54-nation continent today – including trailer manufacturing.

“We find a lot of negativity towards Africa when dealing with foreign people,” says Gerhard van der Merwe, CEO of GRW, a 1.25 billion rand (€84 million) trailer manufacturing company headquartered in Worcester, some 120km northeast of Cape Town. “While we are a proudly African business, we are often perceived as a third world company, which we are certainly not. People often don’t realise how professional we are until they come and visit us and see what we are all about.”

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