Proof that we have the magic

Amid all the po­lit­i­cal gloom there’s been pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments in our busi­ness deal­ings with Qatar

The Star Late Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Shan­non Ebrahim is the For­eign Edi­tor for In­de­pen­dent Me­dia SHAN­NON EBRAHIM

THESE days South Africans seem very de­pressed. What with our down­grade to junk sta­tus, rolling mass ac­tion against the pres­i­dent and po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty that is keep­ing most of us on ten­ter­hooks.

But be­fore some of our com­pa­tri­ots con­sider pack­ing their bags and mov­ing abroad, it is worth tak­ing a mo­ment to high­light some of the pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments tak­ing place be­hind the scenes.

This is not to pa­per over the cracks and sug­gest that our coun­try is not in a cri­sis. It is merely to high­light that if we can over­come our po­lit­i­cal quag­mire, there is a lot to cel­e­brate, par­tic­u­larly in terms of the eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties we can of­fer the world.

Amid our po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity and on the same day mass demon­stra­tions were rolled out across the coun­try against the pres­i­dent, the leader of the world’s wealth­i­est na­tion – His High­ness Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Ha­mad al-Thani of Qatar – was forg­ing huge trade and eco­nomic deals dur­ing his state visit to South Africa.

The me­dia merely fo­cused on the fact that the emir’s bi­lat­eral meet­ing with our pres­i­dent was yo-yoed from one day to the other, but the sig­nif­i­cance of what the emir achieved in his two-day visit was largely lost in the con­fu­sion.

One would have thought that tens of thou­sands of South Africans march­ing against their pres­i­dent would have scared off roy­alty plan­ning to in­vest hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in our econ­omy.

But strangely this was not the case. It was as if the 36-year-old emir had the fore­sight to recog­nise that South Africa had in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­ni­ties that could not be passed up and the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis grip­ping the coun­try would hope­fully be short-lived. The emir even ex­tended his visit in or­der to hold ad­di­tional meet­ings with key eco­nomic stake­hold­ers.

Sheikh al-Thani is known for his sharp busi­ness acu­men and in­no­va­tion, which is why his father stepped down in 2013 to make way for him to take over the king­dom.

Qatar might be small but it has used its im­mense gas wealth to drive its mod­erni­sa­tion and to play a ma­jor role in world di­plo­macy. The emir has been courted by gov­ern­ments through­out the world since tak­ing over, but it seemed last week South Africa cap­tured his imag­i­na­tion.

It was for us to be equally mes­merised by the prospect of forg­ing deals with Qatar – a coun­try with the third largest proven gas re­serves in the world.

Sa­sol has in­vested in build­ing a large plant con­vert­ing gas to liq­uid fuel in Qatar, which has proven to be ex­tremely fi­nan­cially vi­able. Last month the gov­ern­ment of Qatar lifted the ban on the al­lo­ca­tion of ad­di­tional gas blocks. It is ex­pected that South African com­pa­nies will make sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ments to­wards se­cur­ing li­cences to pro­duce fuel from gas in South Africa and Qatar.

South African com­pa­nies in the de­fence sec­tor are also seek­ing to sup­ply their prod­ucts to the Gulf states, and Qatar in par­tic­u­lar. All coun­tries in the Gulf are net im­porters of food. The agri­cul­tural and pro­cessed food sec­tors in South Africa are ex­port­ing about R500 mil­lion worth of prod­ucts to Qatar. Di­rec­tors of Qatar com­pa­nies in the su­per­mar­ket space who at­tended the SA-Qatar busi­ness fo­rum have in­structed their op­er­a­tions and pur­chas­ing de­part­ments to send buy­ing mis­sions to South Africa.

If the South African Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Forestry and Fish­eries con­sid­ers sup­port­ing more South African en­ter­prises to se­cure farm land, the Qatar side will be keen, if in­vited, to part­ner with BBBEE com­pa­nies by pro­vid­ing tech­nol­ogy, fi­nance and mar­kets for South African fresh pro­duce.

Qatar has a strate­gic plan to di­ver­sify away from an oil- and gas-based econ­omy by build­ing its ser­vice and in­dus­trial sec­tors. An agree­ment was signed last week by lead­ing com­pa­nies in the tourism sec­tor from both coun­tries. South African en­ter­prises were in­vited to ten­der for busi­ness in all ar­eas which will re­sult in Qatar de­liv­er­ing a suc­cess­ful Fifa World Cup in 2022.

The fi­nan­cial sec­tor was iden­ti­fied as a sig­nif­i­cant sec­tor to fo­cus on. Both sides demon­strated com­mit­ment to cre­ate a joint in­vest­ment fund with an ini­tial $1 bil­lion (R13bn). The Doha Bank has started by open­ing an of­fice in South Africa.

The South African busi­ness del­e­ga­tion pro­posed es­tab­lish­ing a joint busi­ness coun­cil, which was ac­cepted by the Qatar del­e­ga­tion. The busi­ness fo­rum show­cased the op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to grow both economies. A tar­get of grow­ing bi­lat­eral trade to $1bn by 2020 was set by both heads of state.

A del­e­gate who took part in the busi­ness fo­rum said it all when he de­scribed the de­vel­op­ments of last week as “magic be­yond magic”.

That is the point worth driv­ing home. South Africa is ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing magic, even to the most sought-af­ter in­vestors in the world. Now the chal­lenge is to re­gain our po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity, so we can fly.


PART­NER­ING: The Emir of Qatar, His High­ness Sheikh Tamim bin Ha­mad al-Thani, ar­rives at Waterk­loof Air Force Base ear­lier this month. He was re­ceived by Min­is­ter Maite Nkoana-Masha­bane.

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