President Cyril Ramaphosa’s annual investment conference is often a tonic of good news to counter so much anxiety, negativity and hopelessness.
For that reason, it has to be welcomed as it is a good marketing exercise. But beyond that, tough questions abound about whether it amounts to real discussions about investment and how we create fertile conditions to attract more of it.
Government sells the pledges by the companies at the conference as proof of its success, but the hard facts are that, before the gathering, the moneys pledged were already in the respective companies’ plans. They just use the platform to trumpet the approved plans, which is more of a publicity coup than a triumph for the drive by the president and his investment envoys.
When he launched the initiative in 2018, Ramaphosa said he wanted to attract R1.2 trillion in new investment in five years. You have to feel for the president, who is quite precious about this project. But even he has to wake up to the reality that if we are serious about driving proper economy-boosting investments, we need to fix what makes us unattractive.
This includes the unstable electricity supply; the perception and reality of high crime; the transport infrastructure that has in fact deteriorated under his watch; and the mismanagement of Transnet and the Passenger Rail Agency of SA, which are crucial for goods movement.
We have to first face up to the lawlessness that deters business, such as the routine blockades of our highways and the burning of trucks on the N3 for one reason or the other. We have to fix the Port of Durban, now ranked by a World Bank report as being in the bottom three of the world’s 351 competent container handling facilities.It is astonishing that South Africa’s ports are managed worse than those in Djibouti, Nigeria, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Kenya.
Investors also worry about the political uncertainty generated by fears that their property might not be protected, given the continuous talk about amending section 25 of the Constitution and the arbitrary changes to the Mining Charter.
The great investment showcase feels good, but the substantive issues have to be attended to so that investing in our country is attractive not just for Ramaphosa, but for potential investors too.