Ferial Haffajee: Big-ticket investors respond to Ramaphosa's 'Thuma Mina'

President Cyril Ramaphosa beamed as 10 companies pledged more than R100bn in investments in mining, telecommunications, paper and print products, and motor manufacturing before morning tea on Friday. 

His inaugural investment conference dubbed the Thuma Mina conference is a huge upper after the downer of the medium-term budget policy statement on Wednesday. Thuma Mina, Ramaphosa's call to partnership with the private sector and citizens, is a theme of his Presidency. It is coined from a song by Hugh Masakela and it means Send Me. 

The summit is wall-to-wall with CEOs and big-ticket investors – a version of the World Economic Forum’s Davos gathering, except at the tip of Africa in Johannesburg. The mood on Friday was jovial and positive, reflecting how the private sector views Ramaphosa's presidency whose networks brought together the who’s who of South African and multinational businesses.

The conference was a massive meeting between government and the private sector: the entire Cabinet was present as premiers and South African ambassadors mixed with captains of industry.  

The artist Esther Mahlangu collaborated on decorating a BMW 7-series with the German luxury car brand: it stood at the front of the summit area as an example of South African can-do. Each province has also set up a pop-up store to advertise its investment opportunities.  

The message is that South Africa is open for business. 

The summit was book-ended by investment pledges by local and global companies operating in South Africa, with a few new investors like the Pan-Africa company Mara announcing it will invest US$100m in a plant to manufacture smartphones in South Africa, which was announced by its CEO Ashish Thakar.  

Thakar, who will invest in a smartphone manufacturing plant said “There are one billion smartphones in operation in Africa, but they are never made in Africa,” said the serial entrepreneur. 

The investments are “banked”, according to the Investment Summit organisers, and are not only notional pledges.

Paper product manufacturers Sappi and Mondi announced a combined R15.7bn in new investments over the long-term with Mondi outstripping its competitor by R300m. Ramaphosa stepped down from the board of Mondi in May 2013.

To bolster Ramaphosa’s statement in his State of the Nation address in February that mining is a sunrise and not a sunset industry, three mining companies made investment pledges in new mines and the upkeep of existing mines and in beneficiation - the processing of raw materials which South Africa has tried to do for at least two decades.  

Anglo-American CEO South Africa Andile Sangcu reversed the company’s sale and divest strategy with a promise of R71.5bn investments over the next five years for the upkeep of its South African operations. 

Deshnee Naidoo, the CEO of Vendata's Africa Base Metals, made a bonanza of an investment pledge. She announced R10bn for a new mine and a processing plant as well as a separate investment in the Northern Cape.  Ivanplats, a subsidiary of Ivanhoe, announced an R2.5bn investment in vanadium.  

Former banker and FirstRand founder Paul Harris said his new venture, data provider Rain, would invest R1bn in a 4G and 5G network. Rain is aiming to disrupt the SA telecommunications industry with cheap data that does not expire. Harris said Rain will live demo its 5G network on November 11. 

“This puts South Africa at the forefront of the evolution of 5G. This is a strongdriver of GDP growth and modernisation,” said Harris, who added that the investment was “a manifestation of our confidence in the New Dawn.”  The New Dawn is the theme of Ramaphosa’s presidency.   

Naspers also made a R4.6bn investment in South Africa which included R3.2bn for start-ups to be incubated in a new hub called Naspers Foundry. Mercedes Benz also announced an additional R10bn investment in a C-Class plant in  East London.  

At a separate manufacturing panel, Bosch announced a R1bn expansion to its Kempton Park plant, while Adcock Ingram announced a R90m eyedrops facility.   

* Fin24 is part of Media24, a subsidiary of Naspers.

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