Execs upbeat about reception of Team SA in Davos

SNOW PATROL A Swiss police officer observes the surrounding area from atop the roof of the Davos Congress Hotel ahead of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Picture: Reuters
SNOW PATROL A Swiss police officer observes the surrounding area from atop the roof of the Davos Congress Hotel ahead of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Picture: Reuters

Positive sentiment towards the South African delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was stronger this year than last year, according to three top executives who attended the annual gathering and spoke to City Press on Friday.

Business Unity SA president Sipho Pityana, who is also the chairperson of AngloGold Ashanti, said: “Davos was very cold and snowy, but very good conversations [were held].

“Comparatively speaking, [the mood at Davos towards South Africa this year versus last year] was much better. All of our engagements were oversubscribed. There has been a very warm reception to the South African message.”

MTN Group CEO Rob Shuter told City Press: “Last year, the delegation was headed by then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa ... He had just reconstituted the Eskom board before we went. So, there was already a sense that South Africa had realised that mistakes had been made and was trying to get itself on the right track.

“This year, I think things were much more positive because we had a much more aligned delegation of business, government and labour. I think we were able to demonstrate that we have a great country and great infrastructure.

“We have had challenges, but we confront them openly and we have taken significant steps to improve the situation. We have good plans to take significant steps in the future. So, Ramaphosa had the benefit of a 12-month track record.

“Investors see the progress that has been made ... the South African story was well received,” concluded Shuter.

Bongani Nqwababa, Sasol’s joint president and CEO, said the South African delegation was “extremely well received” at Davos.

The mood around the South African delegation was high last year, he said, and this year “it was even higher because people are not just looking at what is being spoken about but at what has been done.

“There isn’t just talk about [eliminating] corruption; the Zondo commission is going ahead and it looks transparent. So, people have a comforting sense about these developments,” said Nqwababa.

Added Pityana: “Team SA put its best foot forward. We were very frank about our mistakes and our shortcomings, and very clear about our determination to confront these without being reckless and taking too short term an approach.

“We were clear about the need to renew partnerships with the international investor community, both in terms of investments into South Africa and in terms of opening up trade opportunities for South African products.

“We are entering a protectionist world trade environment, with tensions between the US and China quite high, not to mention the developments around Brexit. There is a bigger danger that those of us that are smaller players are likely to be affected even more by the fight among these bigger players.”

On the subject of Eskom, Nqwababa emphasised the need for decisive action to be taken by the authorities regarding the utility.

“There is relief that governance at Eskom is being reined in. Hopefully, we will get more competent leadership going forward,” he added.

Added Shuter: “There were quite a few questions about state-owned enterprises – I think it is well acknowledged that a stable and effective Eskom is central to the growth agenda of the republic.

“With the new management team and the right brains looking at what can be done, I think we can very quickly make the progress we need to make.”

On the subject of land reform, Nqwababa said: “Surprisingly big investors, when I do my Sasol road shows, seem relaxed about that ... They say it is a big problem that needs to be addressed...They are comfortable with the process. The outcome remains to be seen.”

Also on land, Shuter said: “Many investors attended the South African country dialogue session, where our president made the point that land reform is a sensitive topic for many South Africans and we need to take more steps for more people to have the opportunity to own land.

“He put across a balanced, firm view on land reform – investors found that to be reassuring.”

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