SA remains open for business in riots aftermath
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IN the run-up to the annual meetings of the Business Forum of the BRICS Business Council, which have just concluded, I received a number of calls of support and solidarity from the chairmen of the various chapters of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India and China and South Africa). This was in the wake of the mayhem that engulfed KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last month.
As well as appreciating their support, I assured them that the unspeakable events, which have claimed more than 300 lives and led to the destruction of many businesses, do not represent who we are as a people, and that SA remains open for business.
Although this mayhem was admittedly a bad advertisement for our country, it was limited only to two provinces of our country – seven others refused to join – and this is a very important distinction to make.
We are much better than this as a people. Having overcome apartheid, a crime against humanity, we have it within us to overcome this setback too especially with the support of partners like the BRICS Business Council and their respective governments.
What the orchestrators of the July mayhem sought was to cynically exploit the legitimate grievances of our people – hunger and poverty, internal inequality and unemployment especially among the youth.
As a people, we are working with our government to rebuild the affected businesses so that they quickly recover, and we save as many jobs as we can.
We recognise steps taken by the government, including the restructuring of the security cluster, to prevent the same incidents from recurring.
Four billion rands have been set aside to help the rebuilding efforts in both provinces and the Industrial Development Corporation will play an important role in this relief effort alongside other state agencies.
Similarly, our country is still battling the raging fires of the coronavirus pandemic, necessitating that we don’t lower our guard especially on two fronts: first, we need to continue to apply the non-pharmaceutical measures (wash and sanitise our hands, wear face masks and maintain social distance) to contain its spread amid growing public fatigue of the lockdowns; and second, we need to ramp up the vaccination programme to achieve herd immunity through tackling misinformation about the jabs.
In this context, we support the call made by former British prime minister, Gordon Brown, for world leaders to urgently address Africa’s vaccine deficit. Only some 3% of Africa’s population is vaccinated. This has the potential of slowing down the reopening of African economies, while those of the rich world are steaming ahead.
This emerging scenario will inevitably result in the rich world recoiling into protectionism by refusing to accept travellers who are unvaccinated. This will fuel anger and resentment by the poor.
Notwithstanding the preceding challenges I’ve alluded to, our country remains open for business. I base my optimism on a number of positive public policy developments that are currently underway in SA and the rest of the African continent.
Two of these stand out: first, the economic reforms underway in SA; and second, the commencement of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) this year.
In recent months, our government has introduced critical economic reforms to resolve the energy insecurity situation. These include:
The unbundling of Eskom into three subsidiaries – for generation, distribution and transmission – which is now at an advanced stage;
The licensing of more renewable energy sources; and,
Last Thursday, the government gazetted the regulations to govern the framework for generation of up to 100MW embedded energy by private entities.
Soon requests for information will be issued to invite private sector players to invest and operate in Transnet’s freight rail and ports infrastructure – an important step towards making our economy competitive and attractive to economic operators from here and our BRICS partner countries.
In due course, courts will provide clarity on the ongoing litigation that has held up the allocation of the high-demand broadband spectrum and, hopefully, together with the appointment of a new minister, this development should help unlock the potential of the sector and the wider economy.
The commencement of the AfCFTA is the most positive development for the continent in as many years. I believe we should seize this exciting opportunity to grow intra-African trade from under 20% to at least 30% by 2030.
An investment in Africa’s underdeveloped roads and freight rail infrastructure will further unleash the potential of this opportunity. In our country, alone, the government is rolling out a R1 billion infrastructure programme which will significantly bolster job creation and economic growth.
Finally, we have it within us to overcome the challenges we face. We have done it before, and we can do it again.
Mabuza is the chairperson of the Industrial Development Corporation, chairs the SA chapter of the BRICS Business Council.