President Cyril Ramaphosa took on the difficult task on Wednesday morning of addressing business leaders on SA’s attractiveness as an investment destination in an atmosphere weighed down by the violent crime sweeping the country.
The meeting, hosted by Brand SA on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Cape Town, was intended as a seminar “on the ease of doing business”.
Ramaphosa had no choice but to adapt his remarks, holding a moment’s silence for women killed at the hands of the men and for those who have died as a consequence of attacks on foreign nationals in Gauteng.
“It is most unfortunate to meet at a time when we are going through a spate of horrible news. The nation is in deep mourning; we are all deeply disturbed by the killings of women. ... It calls on us as men to rise up and say this should never happen in our name. As men we should stand up and say that we are going to bring an end to the abuse of women and children,” he said.
At the same time, SA also faced “another challenge” of people taking the law into their own hands.
“As much as they have certain grievances I have said that taking action against people from other nations should never be allowed. SA is a home for all. We are not the only country that has become home for people who are fleeing their own countries,” he said.
Residents have reportedly taken part in co-ordinated attacks, looting foreign-owned businesses in Tembisa, Alexandra, Hillbrow, Cleveland, Jeppestown and the Johannesburg CBD since Sunday.
The violence continued on Tuesday, spreading to other areas including Germiston on the East Rand. Similar violence also took place in the Pretoria CBD last week.
Ramaphosa also provided business leaders with a report back on the government’s progress in improving SA as an investment destination. On coming into office Ramaphosa set a target to achieve a top 50 status in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index. SA is rated 82 out of 190 countries.
He said demonstrable progress had been made on reforming the visa regime; decreasing rail and port tariffs; improving policy certainty in mining, and on the drafting of an oil and gas bill.
He said the Integrated Resource Plan — SA’s long-term plan for meeting SA’s energy needs — was “close to being finalised”.
But in the panel discussion following Ramaphosa’s speech, business leaders said they needed to see more demonstrable progress, in particular with the prosecution of people suspected of corruption, for confidence to be restored.
Absa chair Wendy Lucas-Bull said that “the biggest frustration for SA at the moment is [not] seeing action in our plans”.
“We are very good at coming up with plans but we have not delivered with the speed that the circumstances demand. We are in a turnaround situation and a turnaround situation needs very visible leadership and very consistent leadership.
“We absolutely have to get the pace of delivery in a different mode. We have to fix the fiscal situation faster; we have to give the jobs situation more attention. We need fewer initiatives; and ... [a few] things that we do well.”
In reply to Ramaphosa who said that he “could not walk around with handcuffs” to ensure prosecutions for corruption happened, Lucas-Bull said that while she heard him, SA could not allow processes to run forever.
Lucas-Bull’s comments were met with loud applause from the audience.