Behind Cyril’s $100bn charm offensive
SA’s spade work is paying off and more investment is on the way — but bolder reforms will be needed for it to properly gain momentum
They say a recession is the one you talk yourself into. SA is in danger of making that mistake, judging from the rash of doomsday headlines that warn of recession, a fiscal cliff and a weak president beset by enemies.
The narrative that "Ramaphoria" has turned into "Ramaphobia" — a view fuelled by SA’s crushing first-quarter GDP numbers — is countered by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s progress towards his target of raising $100bn in new investment over the next five years. So far, he has raised $20bn from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, mainly in energy and tourism; a further R850m from the UK; and R10bn from Mercedes-Benz to expand its East London manufacturing plant.
SA should expect similar announcements from other corporates, according to Standard Bank chief economist Goolam Ballim. He says "there is feverish business everywhere" and the investment undertakings Ramaphosa has secured are "the real deal".
Ballim should know. He has just spent four days in London facilitating meetings between investors and finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago and Ramaphosa’s investment envoys.
The envoys include former finance minister Trevor Manuel, former Standard Bank CEO Jacko Maree, former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas and Phumzile Langeni, CEO of the Afropulse Group. All have been going at it "hammer and tongs" since their appointment in April, says Manuel.
Manuel has spoken to about 60 companies in New York, London and Dublin. These include foreign-headquartered firms with local operations and corporates who’ve been holding positions on SA for a while but are looking to locate the country in their global supply chains.
The envoys’ message to investors is that SA is on the cusp of a cyclical upswing and a structural reboot that could make for the most exciting investment opportunity in the country since 2002.
Manuel says there is a similarity to the 1994-1996 period when, as minister of trade & industry, he travelled the world introducing SA for the first time. But the fact that he is no longer in government might be an advantage.
"It creates a platform for some very candid discussions when you are not in an executive position," Manuel concedes. "I’ve had to answer questions about election prospects in 2019, section 25 [the constitution’s ‘property clause’] and property rights, the mining charter and the rand.
"I’ve had to explain about the land hearings, the king’s imbizo, the labour situation, the [state-owned enterprises] and what their future is, but I haven’t had to deal with any question that has made me blush."
One question he’s been asked quite bluntly is whether Ramaphosa will get a mandate he can call his own.
"People want to see a centre of government that can make strong policy calls and that these are in favour of strong growth and development," Manuel says.
Both he and Ballim are confident that more investment will flow, particularly after the 2019 general election, based on the groundwork being laid today. Further hard announcements and details of the Middle Eastern deals are expected at an investment summit in October.
If SA was a patient, it would be in the intensive-care unit, stable and with good prospects for recovery, says Ballim, but nobody would expect it to be active when it had just avoided a near-death experience.
So, not only does he believe it is unrealistic to expect the economy to have bounced back so quickly from the Jacob Zuma years, but also that looking at SA’s first-quarter performance for signs of a recovery is to look in the wrong place.
"The change is in the political and institutional sphere and that will permeate into the economy through better policymaking and governance with a lag as it gets injected into firms’ investment and budget decisions," Ballim says.
He takes comfort from the fact that a common feature of countries that have recovered fastest after being junk-rated is "a political reset anchored in regime change". This is exactly what SA has experienced.
He also draws confidence from the light that he says comes on in company directors’ eyes when he explains that they can help trigger SA’s economic recovery, and influence the ANC’s electoral success next year, by investing now.
Fixed investment growth drives economic growth but is contingent on business confidence. Last year, fixed direct investment averaged just 1.5% of SA’s GDP, compared with 7.6% between 2000 and 2009.
Standard Bank estimates that for every R1 increase in fixed investment, GDP rises by R2.60. This means that if private sector investment grew by just 3.3% a year between 2020 and 2022, the economy would create 400,000 jobs and GDP would grow by 2.4%.