Carol Paton Deputy editor: Business Day
Klaus Schwab. Picture: REUTERS
Klaus Schwab. Picture: REUTERS

The World Economic Forum (WEF), the international organisation that brings together the globe’s most influential business and political leaders at Davos each year, held an extraordinary forum in Johannesburg last week to discuss reconstruction in the post-Zuma era.

Chaired by Klaus Schwab, "the father of multi-lateral stakeholder engagement", it brought together 60 global and South African business leaders, 23 cabinet ministers, top government officials and academics to discuss action in 10 areas of the economy ranging from innovation to regional integration and growth and job creation.

The election of Cyril Ramaphosa in February has clear parallels for Schwab and the WEF community, which see it as their duty to facilitate a new partnership between business and political leaders in the post-Zuma era.

In Johannesburg on Thursday Schwab said the forum had been called because Rama-phosa’s election warranted special attention.

In recent years the SA brand had suffered, said Schwab.

"The country was not anymore considered in the right terms. There is a great potential to have access to a larger African market. SA over the last 20 years has grown at only an average of 1.5%, which means that the size of the economy doubles only every 50 years. Now, if you look at some of the other African countries growing at 5%, they will double GDP every 14 years. So it’s a tremendous difference. Accelerated economic growth is absolutely necessary to solve all the issues like education, healthcare, job creation and so on," he said.

Schwab said he did not want to go into details of the "actionable" proposals that emerged as these must still be discussed with other stakeholders.

Of central importance, however, was the discussion of the fourth industrial revolution and how SA had to prepare itself for the implications, including the possible negative implications of falling behind.

How to improve growth and job creation was also at the top of the list.

The meeting was to some extent "a preparatory meeting" for the Jobs Summit and Investment Summit planned by Ramaphosa later in 2018.

Schwab diagnosed SA’s affliction during the Zuma era as similar to a person infected by disease in which the whole body suffered, with the result that it lost its vitality.

"That was the key weakness of SA. There was infighting because there was not anymore a consensus of what has to be achieved. The narrative had become negative.

"This was particularly regrettable because when [Nelson] Mandela came to power there was such a positive narrative about SA," said Schwab.

"Everybody has to share the long-term interest. That is for me the key," he said.

Correction: July 02 2018

This article has been amended to make clear the World Economic Forum is an international organisation and not a foundation. 

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