We need positive, proudly SA scribes

2010-01-30 14:58

I HAVE to avoid giving you advice – for who wants advice from

bankers these days? But I may be bold enough to make a plea: Be an advert for

your ­country.

There is just far too much pessimism around SA at the moment. I

know the old adage that good news does not sell newspapers – but I am imploring

you to at least give this country a chance and then write about the country’s

extraordinary achievements and its exciting future.

For example, the World Economic Forum released its 2009-10 World

Competitiveness Report in mid-October. Although we remained in 45th place

overall out of 133 countries, the report showed that South Africa’s financial

system had jumped up the rankings from 24th to 5th, behind Luxemburg,

Switzerland, Canada and Sweden. Our sector outranks the UK (6th) and the US


We did well on a number of other metrics:
  • 2nd in regulation

    of securities exchanges;

  •  2nd in strength of auditing and

    reporting ­standards;

  •  3rd in efficacy of corporate boards;
  •  4th in

    financing through local equity market;

  •  5th for the soundness of the banking

    sector (the US ranks 108th);

  •  6th in financial market


  •  9th in protection of minority

    shareholders’ ­interests; and

  •  9th for strength of investor


This is something to be extremely proud of, but my sense is that

this did not receive the air time it deserved.

Further, on December 29 last year the Financial Times voted Trevor

Manuel as one of the top 50 ­people who helped to shape the past decade. He was

in the company of Barack Obama, Al Gore, Warren Buffett, Alan Greenspan, Melinda

Gates and JK Rowling. Whatever your ideological position, as a patriot you must

agree that that is an enormous achievement.

As far as I could tell, no SA media company reported on this. My

sense is that we need to be a little more aware of the good news and celebrate

it when it happens. I would have loved to have read this from one of our own


Furthermore, I noted with irrepressible pride this morning (January

26), that the Financial Times, in an online article, listed 50 emerging market

business leaders who have shaped the economic performance of their respective


What is truly remarkable is that out of those 50, four are South

African. They are Graham Mackay of SABMiller, Phuthuma Nhleko of MTN, Cyril

Ramaphosa of Shanduka and Jacko Maree of Standard Bank Group.

The article focused on the major developing countries – Brazil,

Russia, India and China. These countries contribute 15% of world GDP (South

Africa constitutes 0.5%) and 42% of the world’s population (South Africa’s share

of world population is 0.7%). So with those proportions of GDP and population as

background, you will agree that our ­representation of four business leaders in

that group of 50 men and women (or 8%), is such that we punch way above our


I’ll give one more example of something we, as South Africans, have

to be proud of. Did you know that last year South Africa raised two sovereign

bonds: one was $1.5-billion in May at a 375-basis- points (bps) spread over US

Treasuries, and the second was $500 million in August at a 240-bps spread?

(US Treasuries are the debt instruments that are issued and

guaranteed by the US government. The interest rate they are issued at is

regarded as an international standard for government loans.)

Did you know that Mexico has the same rating as South Africa (BBB+)

and yet it also issued a $1.5-billion bond on February 11 2009 at a 425-bps

spread; or that on April 8 last year, South Korea (A rating) issued two bonds

with spreads of 400 bps and 438 bps respectively? A month before our second bond

issue, Poland (with an A- rating) issued a $1.5-billion bond at a spread of 290

bps, significantly higher than our 240 bps spread.

How about the fact that foreign net equity purchases on the JSE

last year were R75 billion – a record level for a calendar year.

This shows that the international investing community believes in

something South Africans themselves seem to find hard to believe. Rating

agencies continue to give this country a stable and fairly high BBB+ rating

despite our challenges.

Finally, let me say this to tonight’s celebrants: The magnificence

of your courage and fortitude, in getting this far in your work and studies, and

the possibilities arising from committing to your professional duties, evoke the

remarkable words of Theodore Rooseveldt, the 26th president of the United


“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how

the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred

by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short

again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcomings, who

knows the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best

knows in the end the high achievement of triumph and who, at worst, if he fails

while daring greatly, knows his place shall never be with those timid and cold

souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Tonight’s celebrants know victory!

  •  This is a shortened version of

    the speech given by Standard Bank SA chief executive Sim Tshabalala to the first

    graduates of the Media24 Journalism Academy this week.

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