SA returns from WEF2023 with lessons learned

Pictured at WEF2023 were (from left) John Werners, Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi, Lindiwe Matlali and John Dutton.

Pictured at WEF2023 were (from left) John Werners, Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi, Lindiwe Matlali and John Dutton.

Published Feb 17, 2023


South Africa has joined the new Coalition of Trade Ministers on Climate - which brings together more than 50 countries throughout the world to tackle climate change by promoting trade and investment that encourages the adoption of goods, services and technologies that mitigate climate change, in both developed and developing countries.

This emerged last week as Team South Africa returned home from the 53rd World Economic Forum (WEF) - with plenty of lessons learned and shared, and many new networks to collaborate on global trade and investment.

Climate change took centre stage at WEF, with world leaders and business executives committing themselves to supporting the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which calls on all countries to cut carbon emissions to limit global warming to around 1.5 degrees Celsius and strive towards attaining net zero emissions by 2050.

The coalition of trade ministers on climate emerged as the highlight of this year’s WEF annual meeting, with a strong commitment that requires countries and businesses to move away from using fossil fuel energy sources such as coal and crude oil, and adopt clean and environmentally friendly energy sources such as wind and solar power.

Mi Casa, Nomzamo Mbatha, Chef Wandile Mabaso

South Africa’s message at Davos was that the country is open to progressive partnerships with the global community and that the country is dealing with all prevailing challenges - particularly load shedding - for which solutions are being implemented.

The WEF’s annual meeting, themed “Co-operation in a Fragmented World”, captured the economic, geopolitical and social challenges currently faced by the globe. The South African delegation acknowledged to the forum that addressing the electricity shortage is “the first and most important step” to unlocking faster economic growth, creating employment and attracting investment.

Leader of the South African delegation, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, along with International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor; Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel; and Human Settlements Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi took the opportunity at WEF to engage world leaders in business, government, academia and civil society on South Africa-specific issues.

At least 45 top industry leaders made up Team South Africa in Davos - including business leaders and executives from South Africa’s blue-chip companies and banks - and together, the delegation put forward the message of a country with vast potential for investment.

Key partners included Old Mutual, Multichoice, Anglo American, Naspers, Standard Bank, Exxaro and the Industrial Development Corporation.

Most newspapers in South Africa ran pictures during the week of Minister Enoch Godongwana meeting Professor Klaus Schwab, Chairman of the World Economic Forum. Moments after the meeting, Prof Schwab posted on social media: “I would like to affirm my support of the international community for measures taken by the South African government to revive the economy and attract foreign investment.”

Highlights at WEF2023 included Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi taking her turn at the Ice Village, Dome D for the stakeholder dialogue entitled: “Inspiring Innovation: How to Create the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs”.

The panel discussion with leaders from the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology took time to discuss the work that South African tech entrepreneur, Lindiwe Matlali is doing in opening up possibilities for the youth in science and innovation.

Highlights of WEF2023 included Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi taking her turn at the Ice Village, Dome D for the stakeholder dialogue entitled: “Inspiring Innovation: How to Create the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs”.

Matlali founded one of Africa’s largest computer science non-profit organisations - Africa Teen Geeks - which teaches children to code and exposes young people to new opportunities in creating a pipeline of tech leaders in Africa.

Matlali said that it was an honour for her to be on stage at WEF alongside John Werners, John Dutton and Minister Kubayi, adding that it was time for the world and especially Africa to unlock the digital opportunities for all the youth on the continent.

Minister Kubayi paid tribute to Matlali, saying that she is a great visionary, a mbokodo and pioneer who is reshaping the global science and innovation landscape by teaching coding and problem-solving skills to thousands of African children.

“Look at what she has done. She has developed partnerships with distinguished institutions such as WEF, Harvard, MIT and many others. It is a great privilege for me to collaborate with her. Her programme Teen Geeks is the next big thing globally, so be on the lookout,” Minister Kubayi said.

Highlights from Team South Africa at WEF included the SA Night where award-winning SA musicians The Soil, Mi Casa, and South African actress and humanitarian Nomzamo Mbatha performed and showcased the best of SA culture and cuisine - including a South African Food Experience with Chef Wandile Mabaso.

South African music, arts and culture were identified alongside top brands, products and services as key selling points in marketing the country at WEF. The impact of the influencers added a colourful chapter to Team South Africa’s strong presence at WEF2023.

The WEF this year allowed Africa to highlight the potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The AfCFTA Secretariat and WEF ̶ in a report titled “A New Era for Global Business and Investment in Africa” ̶ said that the single market was projected to grow to 1.7 billion people and $6.7 trillion (R115 trillion) in consumer and business spending by 2030, with the latter set to more than double to around $16bn by 2050.

South Africa used the gathering to give the world details about reforms in energy, infrastructure development, food security, job creation and the green transition, which the country was implementing.

Brand SA acting CEO Sithembile Ntombela paid tribute to Brand SA and Team South Africa’s sterling work at Davos, saying that the South African delegation did a fantastic job selling South Africa to global investors as a favourable market in which to do business and invest.

Ntombela said that the global challenges that were highlighted at WEF 2023 cannot be resolved in a fragmented world in which countries are pulling in different directions.

“These challenges require collaboration and unity by the nations of the world, where countries are working together to find solutions in an integrated global economy,” said Ntombela.

“The structural reforms that are currently being implemented by the government are making progress in removing investment bottlenecks and reducing the cost of doing business.

“These reforms will enable South Africa, a preferred destination by local investors and global multinationals looking to expand across Africa, to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

“Notwithstanding the energy supply constraints that our country is currently grappling with, South Africa remains an attractive investment destination given its excellent infrastructure, sophisticated financial markets, and skilled workforce.”

With the green energy transition and digital transition in full motion around the world, the delegation expressed support for calls to reskill and upskill workforces, particularly the youth, to prepare them for future workplaces and to mitigate job losses.

Team South Africa also said that it was roundly impressed by the progress made by the WEF’s Reskilling Revolution; an initiative launched in 2020 to empower one billion people. So far, the initiative has reached 350 million people.

In conclusion, South Africa’s participation at WEF2023 capped a successful five-day coming together of delegates from more than 50 countries. The forum provided a unique occasion for Team South Africa to showcase the country as an attractive investment destination and gateway to the continent, and profile its preparedness in a fast-changing global economy.