Ramaphoria? We got grapes of wrath instead

Business

Ramaphoria? We got grapes of wrath instead

The key investment factors were well within our reach to tackle, but such low-hanging fruit has been neglected

Khaya Sithole

Two years ago, in the week of the 79th anniversary of the publication of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed five investment envoys whose primary responsibility was to become the nation’s salesmen in the various international investor markets.

The five – appointed on the basis of their skills and accomplishments across business and the public service – had a target of $100bn to be raised in five years. Such investments, as the theory went, would go a long way towards addressing the economic stagnation of our times. Their focus on external investments was influenced by the reality that in the 10 years leading up to 2017 foreign direct investment (FDI) in SA had declined by 77%. The pursuit of foreign capital was, therefore, an important part of “reigniting the growth momentum” of the economy as articulated by the SA team at Davos in 2018.

Since then, the convergence between expectation and reality has come to represent our broken economy. Its core indicators – unemployment, stagnant growth and, by extension, entrenched inequality – remain as stubborn as they were two years ago. The reality is that such indicators are an accumulation of events rather than a snapshot of two years. No one expected the unemployment crisis of 2018 to be resolved by 2020, and no one seriously thought the reunion of Ramaphosa and Trevor Manuel – chief architects of the national development plan – would suddenly accelerate its promises. The key question is whether, in an age of multiple nations competing for slices of the FDI pie, SA did enough to distinguish itself as the investment destination of choice...

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