JOHANNESBURG – Recently, I attended the second SA Investment Conference in Sandton led by President Cyril Ramaphosa. I instantly felt a strong sense of positivity, hope and togetherness in the room and, although a few major chief executive’s faces were missing, the gathering still had the bulk of the economic who’s-who in attendance.
Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel kicked off the event with a recap of the R290 billion committed to from last year, the seven projects that have been completed and the number of jobs created. The remaining ones are still in the building process or near completion.
Ramaphosa said these commitments are a clear vote of confidence in the economy. He added that, more importantly, they were a sign of confidence in our future and the belief that the economy was poised for growth.
South Africa is still the lead country to invest in on the continent.
Ramphosa went on to say: “We still carry the scars where the colour of one’s skin determines one’s future. The legacy of our divided past has left people without skills and assets and the empowerment of women and the youth must be a top priority.
“Over the past decade, the economy has barely grown and unemployment has increased. Yet even in these challenging times, our hope continues to spring eternal.
"As a nation, we believe that we will not be defeated by our challenges. We have created an environment that is competitive and conducive and we are removing constraints to inclusive growth.
“African countries must trade with each other and the African Continental Free Trade Area is meant to put us on the map and ensure we consume what we produce."
Talking numbers, he stressed that the government was committed to setting up the infrastructure fund of R100bn, which will be incubated at the Development Bank of Southern Africa. The total value of commitment made at the conference was R363bn and this can create 412 000 jobs in the next few years.
From the commitment made last year, this is 17percent higher than those made last year. The government wants to reach R1.2trillion in commitments and investments in five years.
Summing up, the President said: “Unemployment continues to undermine social stability and economic growth. We will go through with an economic reform agenda.
"Failure is not in our dictionary, it is only success. We will not rest till we have restored the health of South Africa’s economy”.
With the conference and all its numbers and promises still fresh in my mind, I went to Cape Town for a few meetings where I bumped into a several international stakeholders attending the Africa Oil week. We discussed the economic state of the nation and most seemed very optimistic yet stressed that good governance and policy stability were still severely lacking in this country. This needs to be remedied quickly to fully restore investor faith and trust and must be able to survive no matter which government comes into power.
A few have criticised the investment conference for being all about pledges and not real commitments, but we must start somewhere, given the global and local challenges over the past few years. From the reports presented by Patel, it seemed lots of last years’ pledges turned into commitments.
Once more kudos to the organising team for a well-delivered conference and content.
Kizito Okechukwu is co-chairperson of the Global Entrepreneurship Network Africa; 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest start-up campus.