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SA will once again star in a theatre of the absurd at annual ‘Investment Conference’

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Ed Stoddard is a Johannesburg-based journalist with a focus on resource industries, economics, wildlife and the environment. A Reuters correspondent for 24 years who hails from the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, he has been a fixture of the Business Maverick team since April of 2019. His work has has also appeared in Undark, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Slate, Salon, and MiningMX, among others. A lot of the time, Ed would rather be fly fishing.

In a ritual that is becoming increasingly detached from reality, South Africa will try to sell itself as an attractive destination for capital at its annual ‘Investment Conference’ in Sandton on Thursday. It is a theatre of the absurd.

This will be the 5th SA Investment Conference, and on its website – The Investment Drive – it states that it can “serve as a platform at which South Africa and its representatives can” do a whole lot of things. 

Let’s unpack these things. 

“Position South Africa as a globally relevant player and partner in trade and investment that can compete with the best in the world,” is at the top of the list. This immediately begs a number of questions. 

In what way is South Africa competing “with the best in the world”? Certainly not, say, economic growth. The World Bank’s latest forecast sees South Africa’s economy growing by 0.5% in 2023. South Africa’s own central bank forecasts growth of just 0.2%, while the International Monetary Fund sees growth of 0.1%. 

So, almost no growth is expected at all this year, and this is almost entirely a consequence of the power crisis. And one of the things about investment is that it tends to flow to economies that are growing and which can get the basics right – like keeping the lights on. 

“Showcase South Africa’s capabilities and strategic importance in the region,” is number two on the list. 

South Africa is strategically important to the region because of its ports and coastlines along two oceans and all that jazz. 

But what “capabilities” are going to be showcased, aside from the ability of the Sandton Convention Centre to keep the lights on and its toilets flushing? 

Power cuts have reached an industrial scale, water supplies are constantly disrupted, the road network is crumbling, and Transnet is going right off the rails. Public education and health are disasters. Crime is out of control, with sectors like mining and construction threatened by procurement mafias. And investors really don’t like dealing with mobsters. 

Diversified miner Sibanye-Stillwater recently said it lost R1-billion in production last year because of copper cable theft. The company’s CEO, Neal Froneman, said in February that there were 60 attacks on its security officers in the last three months of 2022 alone.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Copper cable theft cost Sibanye “north of R1bn” in production in 2022, mining forum told 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Sibanye’s Froneman says SA’s mining sector is being ham…

And any major investor that wants to send skilled staff to South Africa will quickly see first-hand the “capabilities” of Home Affairs. (Spoiler alert: it has none, and I do mean none.) 

“Profile the country’s economic recovery strategy & implementation,” also makes the list. The South African government did a great job on that front just last week!  

“Last week was not the best run-up to the conference, to put it mildly. There were several blunders in how the government communicates to the market,” Busi Mavuso, the straight-talking CEO of Business Leadership SA, said in her weekly newsletter on Monday. 

Mavuso noted the “debacle” around the exemption given, and then withdrawn, to Eskom to allow it to not report fruitless and wasteful expenditure in its annual financial statements. “The way it was communicated to the market – with the impression created that the exemption was to enable the withholding of information from ratings agencies – was a serious blunder. It damages government’s reputation as an honest counterpart to investors.”

In short, it was like something out of Fawlty Towers. 

And then there is the incoherence around renewables and a policy thrust to extend the life of South Africa’s failing power stations at a time when a decarbonisation strategy is critical if this economy is going to remain competitive.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Extending life of ageing coal-fired stations – anti-renewables policy incoherence could cost trillions

Surveying these and other ongoing policy train smashes, a foreign investor might reckon that the cannabis sector has some potential because the stuff that is being smoked here must be pretty strong. But what passes for a cannabis policy is also enveloped in a purple haze. 

“Reinforce South Africa’s position as an attractive business, investment, and tourism destination” is another on the list, and certainly stands out for its banality.

Let’s just take mining exploration as an example. South Africa last year accounted for less than 1% of global exploration expenditure, compared to over 5% back in 2004, when the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act came into effect, giving rise to the original Mining Charter with BEE and other targets that are onerous from a foreign investment perspective.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Mantashe’s missed mining target — SA at less than 1% of…

South Africa’s lack of a transparent mining cadastre, an online portal that displays a country’s mineral wealth and the state-of-play of its mining rights – and which also allows companies to apply for such rights – is widely regarded as a key obstacle to exploration and mining investment more widely. 

After years of needless delays, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy finally has the ball rolling to procure one.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Explainer: A mining cadastre and public transparency

“Showcase investment opportunities that will transform the economy and create employment opportunities,” is next on the list. 

See all of the above. 

And, finally, the LOL kicker: “Emphasise South Africa’s continued commitment towards zero tolerance for corruption and the fight against it in all sectors of society.” 

I mean, seriously, folks. DM/BM

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  • Beyond Fedup says:

    It is a case of the wilfully blind leading the terminally stupid or equally relevant, the other way around. Or – Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do. This hideous, inept, corrupt, arrogant, criminal and self-serving non-government believe the hot air that they spew forth! They are totally clueless and out of touch with reality and how successful prosperous countries function. The proof is in the puffing – we are just about a failed state in every way, as Ed has so eloquently explained, and we have these crass and callous idiots waxing lyrical about attracting investment. Perhaps Russia, China, Iran etc will invest and turn the fortunes of this country around.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Correction – pudding 😂

  • William Dryden says:

    I couldn’t have put the above any better, it got straight to the point and shows how the ANC spin doctors showcase a corrupt and useless government the ANC are in the attempt to get foreign investment.
    Great article including the humorous bits.

  • barbarap.richards says:

    I would really like to see a “pro/spin” article by a relevant government official on the above issues. I am sure it would make amusing reading. Or just get Malibongwe Tyilo on to it, that would be just as satisfying.

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