MEET THE MAN BEHIND THE SAB BRAND

Among some of the impactful campaigns that Sphe has managed are Lion Lager’s “iLobola Ngebhubesi” digital series, 2019’s Carling Black Label Cup,pioneering Castle Free’s “Becoming Imbokodo” women’s rugby reality series, as well as the iconic Castle Lager Lions Series for the British & Irish Lions tournament – all of which received accolades.

Within just six months in his new role as SAB’s brand director, Sphe’s impact has been widely felt. He has recently been awarded a Gold at the ABInBev Africa Creative X Awards for corporate brand work on SAB’s “Lift the Ban” campaign, and a Bronze Effie Award for Corporate Reputation in the “Responsibility: More Than Just a Footnote” campaign. He attributes this recognition to his high-performing team.

“Having a team of young, gifted and black talent has led us to be globally recognised for the work we do. I believe that it speaks to a normalisation of black excellence and the power of diversity and inclusion – two principles about which I am deeply passionate,” he said.

Sphe’s upbringing, education and experience have prepared him well for his current role as brand director at SAB.Over the past three-and-a-half years, he has been intricately involved in the digital and integrated media functions for some of SAB’s most iconic beer brands, including Castle Lager, Castle Free, Carling Black Label and Hansa. Not so long ago, he became marketing manager of the brand that built SAB into South Africans’ hearts, minds and sports stadiums – Castle Lager. In this post he manages incredible sponsorship opportunities with the SA Football Association, Cricket SA and – most recently – the SA Rugby Union, through the brand’s sponsorship of the Castle Lions Series.

As a proudly South African man who believes in active citizenry and has a passion for the nation’s potential, Sphe is keen to ensure that SAB plays an active role in promoting responsible drinking at a grassroots level. In this regard, there is a programme designed by SAB to address the challenge – beyond awareness, and with tangible proof points and targets for the next four years.

SAB’s new Sharp platform enables the company to run interventions that curb, at scale and with pace, the irresponsible consumption of alcohol. It does so through leveraging partnerships with government, communities, civil society retailers and tavern owners. The brewer has also rolled out 10 Alcohol Evidence Centres across South Africa to bolster the fight against drunk driving.

As Sphe assumes his new role as SAB Brand Director he believes there’s a need to go beyond what is known or assumed about SAB and highlight what makes the brand matter. In his discussion with Fast Company about Brands That Matter, he paints a picture that people are starting to associate with SAB, and it includes: entrepreneurship, social impact and innovation.

When Charles Glass started the Castle Brewery in 1888, he insisted his brewery create only the finest beers. Today, it has created more than just fine beer, but one of the brands that matter in South Africa.

To get the full brand story, Fast Company spoke to SAB brand director Siphelele “Sphe” Vundla, whose life experiences have shaped him to help consumers gain an appreciation for brands and what they stand for in society.

Growing up in Umlazi township in KwaZulu-Natal during a period of conflict, and being raised by a Xhosa mother and a religious Zulu father, planted a seed of diversity in Sphe.

“From a very young age, I was very conscious of two worlds; there was a world I lived in (elokshini/township), and there was a world that was educating me in the suburbs,” is how Sphe describes the worlds in which he grew up, adding that they triggered in him a need to understand how everyone lived.

In addition to his lived experience, which influenced his understanding of cultures and society, he enrolled at Wits University to study marketing and media, which in turn equipped him with the tools to communicate about brands and their value.

He is the product of respected media academics such as the current Vice Chancellor of Pretoria University, Professor Tawana Kupe, who founded the media department at Wits University.

“As a brand, SAB has an exciting journey ahead as we seek to drive a national reappraisal of what beer does to drive South Africa’s economic recovery and growth as the job creator and SMME incubator that we are. I am particularly excited about the incredible work that we are doing in communities to confront the social ills stemming from the irresponsible consumption of alcohol through our dynamic SAB Sharp platform.”

He makes the point that SAB exists to demonstrate the unique power of beer to move South Africa forward.

The company has recently concluded its Public Interest Commitments (PIC), which has been hailed as one of the critical interventions made by a private company to allow for the prosperity of communities. SAB has invested R1 billion in key strategic areas, such as agricultural and entrepreneurship development, as well as societal upliftment.

Additionally, SAB developed the SAB Foundation in 2010 as one element of the broad-based black economic empowerment transaction conducted by South African Breweries Ltd (SAB). The SAB Foundation is an independent trust that each year invests millions of rands in developing entrepreneurship in South Africa, and to benefit the wider South African community. The SAB Foundation holds 8.4 million SAB Ltd shares and applies the dividend and special dividend income derived from these for the benefit of the wider South African community. SAB Foundation was the first such organisation in South Africa to receive tax exemption as a small-business funding entity. Over the past 12 years, the SAB Foundation Trust has committed over R151 million to support 355 enterprises and 2686 entrepreneurs.

The SAB Foundation invests in entrepreneurs – with a particular emphasis on women, youth, people in rural areas, and entrepreneurs with disabilities – who show the potential and commitment to grow a business and create jobs. This is done through a structured, two-year business support programme, seed-funding and assistance with access to markets. Applications open once a year, with about 60 new entrepreneurs being brought onto the programme from those businesses showing the most potential and commitment.

The SAB Foundation recently launched the Tholoana Enterprise Programme Alumni Fund, which allows selected alumni to access further support in the form of grants and interest-free loans, provided they meet certain criteria. Since its inception, the programme’s participants have increased their collective turnover by 85%, from R170 million at inception to R315 million before lockdown in 2019. They have also created almost 1000 new jobs.

“The programme helps small business owners become successful and resilient by giving them a “hand up” in the form of tools they need to succeed. This is so critical for South Africa at this time, in view of our nation’s highest ever unemployment rate.” Sphe added.

Over and above providing support during the initial stages, the SAB Foundation keeps a keen eye on innovation across South Africa and recognises it through the Social Innovation Awards. These are aimed at innovators, social entrepreneurs, institutions, and social enterprises with prototypes or early-stage businesses that can solve social problems. These products, services, business models, and processes should directly address the challenges faced by low-income women, youth, people living with disabilities, or people living in rural areas.

Sphe makes the point that over and above enabling entrepreneurs to start their businesses, SAB also assists those within the SAB ecosystem by providing the tools to help them run their businesses. One such tool is BEES, an e-commerce platform that’s transforming the traditional sales model by putting customers at its heart and using technology to turn customer issues into growth opportunities. At its simplest, BEES is an app where small and medium-sized retailers can browse products, place orders, earn rewards, arrange deliveries, manage invoices and access business insights all from one place.

BEES was launched at the end of 2019 in the Dominican Republic and became a lifeline for many retailers during Covid-19. Today, BEES is one of the largest business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce platforms in the world, with 1.5 million active users each month.

BEES was launched at the end of 2019 in the Dominican Republic and became a lifeline for many retailers during Covid-19. Today, BEES is one of the largest business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce platforms in the world, with 1.5 million active users each month.

A final point Sphe makes about the SAB brand is that it embraces innovation by supporting innovators and by innovating within. In this regard, he highlights another SAB brand, Castle Lite, to illustrate how such innovation is making a difference. When you drink it, you are indirectly contributing towards saving energy and improving the environment because Castle Lite is currently being produced with 40% renewable electricity.

This is good news for South Africa because it reduces the load on the national grid. As the country struggles with energy supply, businesses are getting off the grid and saving power. For consumers, this means they will soon enjoy the cold brew without interruptions due to power cuts. Traders and partners selling Castle Lite will soon be assisted with solar solutions to enable them to operate even when there are power cuts.


Castle Lite’s message is one of uninterrupted enjoyment and that by using less electricity from the grid to brew their beer, there is more electricity available for everyone to enjoy. Actions by SAB speak for themselves when it comes to the value of this brand in society. Sphe comes with the necessary experience to expand its reach and create more awareness about this giant African beer company.

“We want to contribute to the expedition of  economic recovery by empowering our value chain of over 250 000 people, which includes farmers, retailers and taverners – It’s what I call the Beer Economy”

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