For the past 20 years, I have travelled the world representing South African business interests on the international stage. Despite a period of significant and relatively steady growth since 1994, attracting investment in SA Incorporated has never been easy.
During the early days of our democracy, it was often necessary to allay investors’ fears of suspected political and social volatility.
Our hard-worn democratic miracle won us goodwill, but capital flows were generated on the promise of stability and sustainable development, as well as inclusive economic growth and greater prosperity to ensure that the lives of previously marginalised South Africans were positively impacted.
Fast-forward to South Africa today and our national brand has been battered by a series of setbacks – many of which are self-inflicted.
The economy is in technical recession, unemployment is at a 14-year-high, and survey after survey tells us that all manner of investors – and, indeed, consumers – have become wary about South Africa’s prospects.
The consequence has been an economy that is unable to create new jobs and unable to absorb aspirant school-leavers.
There is clearly an urgent need to restore confidence in brand South Africa. A cacophony of headlines about state capture, corruption, policy uncertainty and general volatility within the governing party have not helped our cause as observers raise specific concerns regarding South Africa’s economic brand and reputation. Many of the concerns touch on:
Diverse views in a democracy are expected; however, the direction of any country is also contingent on strong leadership. Reports of critical governance decisions made outside of elected structures by unelected people with vested interests, does not bode well for investor or consumer confidence.
Against the backdrop of high levels of unemployment and poverty, as manifested in widespread service delivery protests, abuse of the public purse has disrupted our society and the ability of elected officials and policymakers to lead our country into a new more inclusive society.
The ANC once heralded National Treasury as an institution that had to maintain the trust of stakeholders. The unit has always attracted and retained – over a fairly long period – the best leadership talent with consistent economic growth as a result.
However, in the past three years we have had four finance ministers as head of Treasury. The dramatic changes to the engine of our economy have left many observers and insiders confused and frustrated. Markets, consequently, have not responded well.
Capital is most concerned with seeking an opportunity to replicate itself within the confines of the law. In order for this to happen, it needs a set of rules and policies that are applied consistently and with wisdom. South African society is, sadly, the recipient of the converse, today.
3. Fiscal discipline
Ongoing reports of fiscal waste in all areas of government are a pressing concern. Billions lost through inefficient state-owned enterprises (SOEs), various levels of government, and the constant churn of SOE executives and boards have diminished accumulated assurance in entities such as Eskom, which are critical to the livelihood of our people.
The private sector can, and must, do more to advance transformation; ordinary citizens can continue to raise their voices in opposition, where required, and use their votes to elect better leadership. Leaders in all our sectors of public life – politics, business and civil society – should stand together as true patriots to steer brand South Africa to calmer waters.
I look forward to sharing my views and to engage local and global delegates on how best to improve the country’s brand image at the SA Brand Summit & Awards in November.