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South Africa needs to use the forthcoming summit of the Brics bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to showcase its attractiveness as an investment location of choice. The country’s image has been impaired by a succession of unfortunate events which, I dare say, do not represent South Africa in its totality
From Marikana to Silver Woods Estate (Oscar Pistorius) to Daveyton (police dragging of minibus taxi driver Mido Macia), the global media spotlight on these isolated events has created a largely distorted picture of the country. This is not in any way to deny that these events happened or to say that they should not have been covered.
The issue is that there is a danger that the country’s brand equity can be impaired in ways that undermine our global positioning. A positive way of making sense of the massive global media coverage of these events is that South Africa is a country held in high esteem and therefore high standards are used to judge the republic.
This is good. There are countries where barbaric events happen and do not make global news. That is either because those countries do not matter or they have been written off.
South Africa matters. The world has very high expectations of this country. That is why leaders in the government, business, labour and organs of civil society always have to be careful of what they say.
The extent to which others view us favourably largely hinges on the extent to which we project a positive and compelling image about South Africa. This is an area of massive opportunity for improvement by leaders across all sectors of society.
Most people who visit the country cannot believe how ultra self-critical and negative some people, many in business, come across when talking about South Africa and its political leadership around northern suburbs dinner tables. This is not good.
Business cannot succeed without government support. Chinese, Indian, Brazilian and Russian companies and their leaders work in close collaboration with their government leaders, especially in targeting strategic opportunities offshore.
That is not to say they do not have their own differences on certain aspects of domestic policy and practice. They do. But when it comes to engaging at a strategic level, there is a confluence of interests informed by what is good and prudent from a strategic national interest perspective.
South Africa can and must do the same if it is to position itself as a winner in the global competitive battles of the 21st century. The Brics summit provides us a golden opportunity to refine, package and project a compelling proposition as an investment location of choice not just for Brics but for the world at large. But how?
First, South Africa needs to craft and project a compelling and consistent message on what makes it unique as an investment location in the global scheme of things. The country’s impeccable track record in the sophistication of its financial services sector is a strategic asset that can and must be leveraged to the maximum.
The World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness report has ranked South Africa tops in key aspects of the financial services industry not just against its Brics peers but also against First World countries such as the US, the UK and Europe. South Africa should try and position itself as the global centre of excellence in financial services and challenge London and New York as the global financial hubs.
Second, South Africa’s unique geo-economic strategic positioning as a gateway to Africa needs to be asserted often enough and emphatically enough.
A recent Ernst & Young report indicates the undoubted appeal and uniqueness of South Africa as a magnet for investment into the continent. Notwithstanding some prophets of doom who have been predicting South Africa’s “downfall” while Africa “rises”, the empirical evidence tells a totally different story.
It is a story of South Africa’s attractiveness and competitiveness as an investment location of choice in Africa. Facts should be the basis of truth, not wishful thinking.
Third, for the first time, the country now has a National Development Plan (NDP) that provides a road map and a useful reference point for the country’s inclusive growth and development.
This will remain a legacy for generations, with President Jacob Zuma being known as the first South African president to craft an NDP for all South Africans. Our engagement with Brics should seek creative ways of leveraging our partnership with these key emerging markets to make the NDP happen.
The NDP is an embodiment of our aspirations as a nation and should inform how we navigate our way on the local and global stages. It is also important to benchmark our NDP with our Brics counterparts and keep it relevant and responsive to the real and concrete challenge facing the country and its people.
One key challenge facing South Africa is a lack of discipline in effective execution on plans. China is very good at that and, needless to say, can provide appropriate lessons that can be adapted to local conditions. Foreign investors like clarity of policy and plans and having the NDP and the policy clarity from Mangaung should be showcased at Brics to attract and retain foreign investors.
Fourth, South Africa’s massive and almost unprecedented infrastructure development programme presents attractive opportunities for foreign investors. The fact that there seems to be the political will and commitment at the highest level of the government to expedite approval processes is a good sign indeed.
Bureaucratic red tape and approval processes have the ability to undermine the most ambitious and well-intentioned infrastructure build programmes around the world. Business needs to keep the pressure on the government to eliminate red tape and execute on projects once decisions have been taken.
Last, all the Brics countries face challenges with corruption. They should form a united front and embed a culture of zero tolerate to corruption. As their economies have grown, we have also seen corruption growing, but this is not inevitable.
It requires strong and effective leadership to tackle corruption head on.
Attracting and retaining domestic and foreign investment is the major challenge for all the governments in the world.
To the extent that South Africa leverages its hosting of the Brics summit, progress can be made in the right direction to attract and retain investors in ways that advance growth and development projects and unleash prosperity for generations.
Kuseni Dlamini is a member of the national council of the SA Institute of International Affairs. He has run businesses in most of the Brics countries.