Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

About 60 local and international businesspeople will meet cabinet members in Johannesburg on Thursday under the auspices of the World Economic Forum (WEF) to boost President Cyril Ramaphosa’s investment drive.

The roundtable meeting between senior government members and business was unusual for the WEF, said head of business engagement Olivier Schwab, but it could become a more frequent style of event.

The forum usually focused on its main forum in Davos and its regional forums, but the roundtable was very much in line with the forum’s broad strategy, he said.

"We also want to leverage the opportunity for much more intimate, high-level meetings, particularly when there is a change of government."

This was somewhat the case in SA, with a broadly new administration keen to share its views, seek connections and showcase new ideas, he said.

The attendees are about evenly split between businesspeople from SA, the rest of Africa and abroad, including senior representatives from companies such as Coca-Cola, Siemens, Bain, Unilever and Procter and Gamble. "It’s a good mix of the forum’s members and partners," Schwab said.

Themes for discussion at the one-day conference include global trends such as the fourth industrial revolution and how they affect SA; opportunities for regional co-operation; infrastructure; growth and investment; and job creation, especially for young people.

"At the forum, we have always believed [in] business being a force for good," Schwab said. "We have also always supported the notion that businesses are not only accountable to shareholders but all stakeholders. This has been part of our DNA.

"We have also been recognised by the Swiss government as the international organisation for public-private co-operation. That, we believe, is critical to generating sustainable growth."

The WEF in Davos has experienced some friction between business and the government in the Zuma era, with a notable exchange between business and government on the notion of "radical economic transformation" at the 2016 event.

The forum has also been part of the creation of business initiatives to support change in SA, notably the creation of the CEO’s Forum, which had its roots at the same meeting.

Schwab said there had been a strong desire, at least from the business community, to engage internationally throughout the Zuma era. Membership of the WEF from Africa had been growing about 12% year-on-year, he said.

There had always been an enthusiasm about SA internationally, particularly as an entry point into the continent.

"A lot of what these meetings are about is where this new administration is heading and what can be done to develop the country in an inclusive and sustainable way," he said.