Despite repeatedly being asked about what, in her view, the future holds for Eskom, Busi Mabuza, chair of the board of the Industrial Development Corporation, refused to comment on the likely fate of the debt-ridden state-owned energy supplier.
"I will talk about anything but Eskom," Mabuza said during a panel discussion on financing sustainable infrastructure, which took place during the 4th annual meeting of the New Development Bank (NDB) - commonly referred to as the BRICS Bank - in Cape Town on Tuesday.
"We won't be able to make progress if we only rely on governments," Mabuza said of financing infrastructure projects in general. She said the NDB had been able to make deals relatively quickly in China, for instance.
"Yet, either due to regulatory constraints or (lack of) appetite, or the (view of the) asset class by traditional fund managers, one finds infrastructure investment is left to government and development banks."
When Mabuza referred to the "quite sizeable" pension fund pools existing in sub-Sahara Africa, fellow panelist Dr Renosi Mokate, chair of the board of trustees of the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) in South Africa, was quick to point out that good governance is a key factor for the GEPF in its decisions to invest in state-owned enterprises or not.
"We do not want to put money into something and then, because of a lack of governance, we do not have the results pensioners were expecting," said Mokate.
She added that government guarantees backing up investments in SOEs can even become "meaningless" if there is a lack of good governance.
Mabuza did not directly respond to Mokate's explanation.
Regional value chain
According to Mabuza, large infrastructure projects won't make sense if one looks at the geographies in Africa in isolation.
"We need to look at the regional value chain for meaningful opportunities. That will require regulatory facilitation. We also need project development facilitation," she said.
This echoed Finance Minister Tito Mboweni's view, expressed in his welcoming message at the opening of the BRICS annual meeting on Monday, that it is important to foster the "interconnectedness" between Southern African countries.
Mabuza further added during the panel discussion that the destruction of existing infrastructure is an issue "peculiar" to South Africa. In her view, a lot of education needs to be done among people so that, when infrastructure is put in place, it will be protected and seen as an asset by communities.
"SA is at the moment in quite a precarious situation. We need to come together and make sure we unlock opportunities for the benefit for everybody," said Mabuza.
"This should be done not by isolating local solutions. We have maybe focused on large projects and missed out on more local opportunities."