ON THE RECORD | East Africa 'eating our breakfast' as CEOs find SA harder to sell

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BLSA head Busi Mavuso and News24 Business Editor Helena Wasserman in conversation at News24's On the Record event.
BLSA head Busi Mavuso and News24 Business Editor Helena Wasserman in conversation at News24's On the Record event.
Luke Daniel, News24
  • It's getting more difficult for South African CEOs to make cogent arguments for investment, says the head of BLSA.
  • Busisiwe Mavuso told News24's On the Record that investors were tired of waiting for SA to come right and East Africa was "eating SA's breakfast". 
  • A Nedbank executive says the country should be thankful for township entrepreneurs succeeding despite government indifference. 
  • For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.

South Africa risks falling off the radar of international investors who are tired of waiting for SA to show its business potential, according to Busisiwe Mavuso, the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA).

"The sentiment for the international community is that South Africa is currently sitting with mounting weakness," Mavuso told a business panel discussion at News24's On The Record event in Cape Town.

Global investors were well aware of problems bedevilling the country's business environment, from load shedding and joblessness to greylisting and high crime rates.  

Whereas in the past local CEOs could talk up the country's future prospects, these arguments were becoming harder to make.

"CEOs are saying it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell South Africa authentically," Mavuso told the panel, hosted by News24 Business editor Helena Wassermann. 

"I worry that the response it invokes from capital holders is no longer 'wait-and-see'. Now they are saying 'next - let's turn the page and move on.'"

Mavuso said there was a clear trend of investors choosing East Africa over South Africa to use as their gateway to the African continent: 

East Africa is eating SA's breakfast and we are serving it to them on a silver platter.

What is to be done? 

The BLSA head cautioned the private sector to fight the impulse of think it can take over the job of government.

"The private sector is intervening because we have to," she said. "It is a means to an end. It cannot be an end in itself."

Fixing the country's investment climate, she said, required the professionalisation of SA's civil service. 

"Politicising the civil service was a fundamental error," she said, adding the policy of cadre deployment had been a disaster. 

"The most important determinant of any functioning state is its administrant," she added. 

In spite of the dead hand of the state, the panellists agreed there were still juicy investment opportunities if one looked closely. 

Ciko Thomas, Nedbank's group managing executive for retail and business banking, said an entrepreneurial spirit is clearly evident in SA's 20 largest townships that do around R600 billion in business a year. 

He said that small businesses were bypassing the government and "making a plan" to trade in everything from vegetables and groceries to car parts. 

"As a business person, I have to take courage from that."

Township entrepreneurs could grow bigger and faster if only the state could give guarantees them a measure of safety, he said. 

"In spite of the pall of gloom, normal South African are getting on with their lives," he said. 

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