The latest raft of economic data and steady chorus of pleas from business for policy certainty should focus the cabinet’s collective mind to find ways to expedite growth, investment and regulations to encourage both to address rising unemployment and social discord.
Energy minister Jeff Radebe’s comment that the Mineral & Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill must be expedited and passed into law stand in stark contrast to that of mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe that he and his department are of the view that it should be withdrawn.
More recently, Mantashe told delegates at an Australian mining conference that the amendment bill "has been withdrawn from parliament" and that the oil, gas and petroleum elements of the act will be separated into their own act. Mining lawyers point to the potential for the amendment bill to be locked in a legal quagmire if it is promulgated, exacerbating the regulatory uncertainty bedevilling the mining sector and effectively throttling multimillion-dollar exploration projects for shale gas and oil.
Radebe’s comments, made subsequent to those by Mantashe, can only serve to confuse already skittish potential investors. That two senior cabinet ministers of such important portfolios are publicly at odds over amendments to the key legislation governing SA’s ailing minerals sector is nothing less than astounding.
The growing clamour for a settled and considered regulatory framework appears to be unheard by the ANC, which is riven by factions and a fight for control of state resources after nine years of rampant corruption and maladministration under the presidency of Jacob Zuma. His replacement, Cyril Ramaphosa, and the pragmatists in the party are trying to wrest control of the key levers of the economy and justice system away from Zuma acolytes, who, according to the Sunday Times, are marshalling their forces with the former president to unseat Ramaphosa.
It is little wonder then that there is discord emanating from ministers as repeated requests from business are drowned by the ANC’s internal discord.
Patrice Motsepe, one of the leading business figure in post-apartheid SA, said on Friday that business people want "good, clear, consistent reliable rules". A widely travelled business person who meets investors and other strategically important figures offshore, he said that they bombarded him and other SA business leaders about "certainty, confidence and issues relating to land reform" and that a lack of confidence in certain sectors was "not without justification".
Considering that powerful business people like Motsepe and other business leaders have to defend SA, its policies, investment climate and political decisions to wary and sceptical international investors must surely send a message to Ramaphosa that the government is singularly failing to instil confidence that the country is back on track after Zuma.
Ramaphosa is driving his investment agenda hard in his quest to lure $100bn to SA, sending trusted lieutenants to persuade governments and offshore businesses to sink capital in the country as employment continues to swell and social unrest festers and boils over ahead of the 2019 general election.
While there has been a degree of success in this plan, the message filtering through to executives of companies operating in SA and seeking money from international investors, particularly in the resources sector, is far more negative and wary.
The damage wrought by Zuma and his associates on the economy will be felt for years. Bringing to justice the perpetrators of crime that has affected an entire population by crippling state-owned companies supplying electricity, rail services and transport must be a priority, but it needs a far more clear and succinct message than the one coming from the government.
The last thing any quest for investment needs is a mixed and confusing message from ministers of two deeply troubled sectors of the economy. It just cannot be this difficult.