File image: Ratings agency, Moody's. Reuters.
JOHANNESBURG - South Africa hopes to stave off a downgrade of the country's sovereign debt to below investment grade by rating agency Moody’s Investors Service, a confident Deputy Finance Minister Mondli Gungubele said in Sandton, Johannesburg, yesterday.

He said interactions with investors and rating agencies during last week's roadshows had yielded positive results.

“We had a session with all rating agencies. We had very positive discussions, which were frank and honest. I have no memory of any negative parting shot in our meetings. As a result of that, I anxiously, with all humility, await something better, but it is their decision to make,” said Gungubele.

Moody’s placed South Africa on review for a downgrade in November and was the last major rating agency to hold the country's debt at investment grade. It is expected to make its report on the country's credit status public later today.

Gungubele, who was appointed in February, was part of the government-led investor roadshow held in London and New York last week.

He said among the issues they related was the restructuring that is currently taking place in state-owned entities (SOEs), adding that the private sector had a role to play in the process.

“We have come to realise SOEs are supposed to be a value-add to the government, not a value subtraction if you look at their historic performance. New interventions are needed and the private sector is one of the important options,” said Gungubele.

Standard Bank chief executive Sim Tshabalala, who is also a director of Business Leadership South Africa, said that problematic choices made by the previous administration had put the country's fiscus under pressure. He mentioned “the debate about nuclear and the debate about funding for education and the timing of it.”

Tshabalala said he was confident the new administration under President Cyril Ramaphosa would meet its economic growth targets. “The goals set out by the current administration are necessarily ambitious, given where our country comes from. To achieve these goals, government, labour and business will have to work together,” Tshabalala said.

In one of the boldest moves to salvage the integrity of state institutions, Ramaphosa last week suspended South African Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane with immediate effect.

Ramaphosa’s damning letter to Moyane raised concerns that public confidence in public finances had been compromised under his leadership.

Ramaphosa has also taken decisive action to stem the bleed at cash-strapped power utility Eskom with the appointment of Jabu Mabuza as chairperson in January.

Mabuza was tasked with identifying and find solutions to problems at the entity.

PwC economist Maura Feddersen said a downgrade would result in an outflow of capital from the domestic bond market and an accompanied weakening in the rand exchange rate.

“If Moody’s Investors Service were to downgrade South Africa's sovereign debt to below investment grade, the volatility for local bonds and the rand would likely disperse hopes of an interest rate cut,” said Feddersen.

- BUSINESS REPORT