Re­new faith in brand SA

CityPress - - Voices - Crispin Sonn voices@city­press.co.za

For the past 20 years, I have trav­elled the world rep­re­sent­ing South African busi­ness in­ter­ests on the in­ter­na­tional stage. De­spite a pe­riod of sig­nif­i­cant and rel­a­tively steady growth since 1994, at­tract­ing in­vest­ment in SA In­cor­po­rated has never been easy.

Dur­ing the early days of our democ­racy, it was of­ten ne­c­es­sary to al­lay in­vestors’ fears of sus­pected po­lit­i­cal and so­cial volatil­ity. Our hard-worn demo­cratic mir­a­cle won us good­will, but cap­i­tal flows were gen­er­ated on the promise of sta­bil­ity and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, as well as in­clu­sive eco­nomic growth and greater pros­per­ity to en­sure that the lives of pre­vi­ously marginalised South Africans were pos­i­tively im­pacted.

Fast-for­ward to South Africa to­day and our na­tional brand has been bat­tered by a se­ries of set­backs – many of which are self-in­flicted.

The econ­omy is in tech­ni­cal re­ces­sion, un­em­ploy­ment is at a 14-year-high, and sur­vey af­ter sur­vey tells us that all man­ner of in­vestors – and, in­deed, con­sumers – have be­come wary about South Africa’s prospects. The con­se­quence has been an econ­omy that is un­able to cre­ate new jobs and un­able to ab­sorb as­pi­rant school­leavers.

There is clearly an ur­gent need to re­store con­fi­dence in brand South Africa. A ca­coph­ony of head­lines about state cap­ture, cor­rup­tion, pol­icy un­cer­tainty and gen­eral volatil­ity within the gov­ern­ing party have not helped our cause as ob­servers raise spe­cific con­cerns re­gard­ing South Africa’s eco­nomic brand and rep­u­ta­tion. Many of the con­cerns touch on:

Di­verse views in a democ­racy are ex­pected; how­ever, the di­rec­tion of any coun­try is also con­tin­gent on strong lead­er­ship. Re­ports of crit­i­cal gov­er­nance de­ci­sions made out­side of elected struc­tures by un­elected peo­ple with vested in­ter­ests, does not bode well for in­vestor or con­sumer con­fi­dence. Against the back­drop of high lev­els of un­em­ploy­ment and poverty, as man­i­fested in wide­spread ser­vice de­liv­ery protests, abuse of the pub­lic purse has dis­rupted our so­ci­ety and the abil­ity of elected of­fi­cials and pol­i­cy­mak­ers to lead our coun­try into a new more in­clu­sive so­ci­ety.

The ANC once her­alded Na­tional Trea­sury as an in­sti­tu­tion that had to main­tain the trust of stake­hold­ers. The unit has al­ways at­tracted and re­tained – over a fairly long pe­riod – the best lead­er­ship tal­ent with con­sis­tent eco­nomic growth as a re­sult.

How­ever, in the past three years we have had four fi­nance min­is­ters as head of Trea­sury. The dra­matic changes to the en­gine of our econ­omy have left many ob­servers and in­sid­ers con­fused and frus­trated. Mar­kets, con­se­quently, have not re­sponded well.

Cap­i­tal is most con­cerned with seek­ing an op­por­tu­nity to repli­cate it­self within the con­fines of the law. In or­der for this to hap­pen, it needs a set of rules and poli­cies that are ap­plied con­sis­tently and with wis­dom. South African so­ci­ety is, sadly, the re­cip­i­ent of the con­verse, to­day.

On­go­ing re­ports of fis­cal waste in all ar­eas of gov­ern­ment are a press­ing con­cern. Bil­lions lost through in­ef­fi­cient state-owned en­ter­prises (SOEs), var­i­ous lev­els of gov­ern­ment, and the con­stant churn of SOE ex­ec­u­tives and boards have di­min­ished ac­cu­mu­lated as­sur­ance in en­ti­ties such as Eskom, which are crit­i­cal to the liveli­hood of our peo­ple.

The pri­vate sec­tor can, and must, do more to ad­vance trans­for­ma­tion; or­di­nary cit­i­zens can con­tinue to raise their voices in op­po­si­tion, where re­quired, and use their votes to elect bet­ter lead­er­ship. Lead­ers in all our sec­tors of pub­lic life – pol­i­tics, busi­ness and civil so­ci­ety – should stand to­gether as true pa­tri­ots to steer brand South Africa to calmer wa­ters.

I look for­ward to shar­ing my views and to en­gage lo­cal and global del­e­gates on how best to im­prove the coun­try’s brand im­age at the SA Brand Sum­mit & Awards in Novem­ber. Sonn is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Gamiro, a 100% black­owned in­vest­ment ve­hi­cle. He also serves on var­i­ous boards, in­clud­ing Food­bank South Africa, the Univer­sity of Cape Town’s Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness and Fron­tier

Rare Earths. He will be speak­ing at the SA Brand Sum­mit & Awards. For more, visit sabrand­sum­mit.co.za

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