We should give SA a little more credit, says Ninety One CEO

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Ninety One CEO Hendrik Du Toit says many people and investors underestimate the resilience of South Africans.
Ninety One CEO Hendrik Du Toit says many people and investors underestimate the resilience of South Africans.
Gallo / Foto24 / Felix Dlangamandla
  • Asset manager Ninety One CEO Hendrik du Toit says many people and investors underestimate the resilience of South Africans.
  • He says the market correction, which saw the JSE reach record highs this year, shows that many people were wrong to expect the worst from South African businesses.
  • Du Toit thinks things won't turn out as bad as some speculated a year ago, especially now that the ANC is internally fighting for its soul.

Asset manager Ninety One CEO Hendrik du Toit says people are too pessimistic about South Africa, and maybe a tiny ounce of optimism is needed because the local business sector is more resilient than many gives it credit.

Du Toit, who was speaking at the PSG annual conference on Thursday, pointed out how the value of many South African companies was discounted by the stock market for years even though some entrepreneurial minds in the country were building world-class businesses.

"If you look at the stock market of late, clearly many people got it wrong because South African businesses are being rerated as we speak. We were always a prisoner of the macroeconomic space in which we operate," he said at the conference.

Du Toit said to an extent, this was understandable because South Africa has been stuck in a low growth phase for a very long time. But what the markets didn't give South African entrepreneurs credit for was that they always saw opportunities to build in any environment.

SA has few success stories of businesses that were built from the ground during the most volatile years when the country was transitioning to a democracy. Ninety One was established in 1991 as Investec Asset Management. A year later, Discovery launched amid the Bisho massacre and Chris Hani's assassination. In the dawn of democracy, South Africa grew blue chip companies like Capitec and Curro.

"Who would have believed that a Capitec would have been built in this country, in this economy over the last two decades? I still remember when [founder] Michiel le Roux told me about his business plan. It was an amazing story that no one would have believed at the time," he said.

Signs of hope

Even though some say South Africa is going through its roughest patch now because of traces of destruction left by former president Jacob Zuma's administration, Du Toit said people must "never underestimate the resilience of this country and the resourcefulness of its business community".

"For hundreds of years, a lot of people have bet against this country, and actually, it has not done as badly as the naysayers say. Yes, it doesn't live up to its full potential. Since 1994 we should be better off. But there are signs of hope," he said.

Du Toit said as the ANC is internally battling for its heart and soul, there was a chance that the ruling party emerge as a far better organisation post the era of its current secretary-general, Ace Magashule. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered a suspension notice to Magashule on Monday. But in an about-turn, a letter has emerged which showed that the suspended secretary-general also supposedly served a suspension notice to Ramaphosa.

Du Toit said he thought South Africa was headed to a point where citizens will hold hands and say, "enough is enough; we are all suffering".

"I don't think the next few years are going to be as bad as people said when the army was on the streets a year ago. There is movement in this country and a positive movement that we should recognise. But we are not where we should be," he said.

Go to the Fin24 front page.

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