RSA HOLDS KEY IN FIXING OUR ECONOMY
In ushering the new year I want us to confront these cold facts. We are a sovereign State having received our independence in September 6, 1968, right!
We also accept that the borders that were declared to make the independent Eswatini were not reflective of the original boundaries of the country. Sure! In fact, about three quarters of our land is what today constitute the Mpumangala Province and part of KwaZulu Natal. It is equally true that the population of Swazis in the Republic of South Africa is almost four times bigger than what we have here. But today I want us to focus on the economic question. The question we need to answer is can we have an economy that is independent of Pretoria?
The answer starts with a NO and ends with a YES! This is why?
It starts from the pegging of the Lilangeni to the Rand at the ratio of 1:1. That alone is an admission that our economy is an extension of Pretoria.
The only difference between the goods in our shelves and theirs is the boarding pass or stamp on your passport indicating that you are now in another country. From the goods we eat to the companies that provide services like banks and retail stores, we are one, because we import from RSA. This therefore, suggests one thing and one thing only, our Commerce Industry and Trade Minister Manqoba Khumalo will spend five fruitless years if he continues to ignore Pretoria as a serious partner we need in order to turn our fortunes around. The decision to expand operations in the Kingdom don’t rest with the various managing directors stationed here but the big bosses in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and some in Durban. These big bosses in these cities I have mentioned above need us to call for their attention. In fact, the reason the Eswatini Investment Promotion Authority (SIPA) has been ineffective since inception has been its disoriented strategy to consider investors as those coming from overseas or the Republic of China on Taiwan..
We may be a sovereign country, but that does not mean we need to ignore the strength of our neighbour. The South African economy despite the challenges it has faced in recent times, remains the number one economy in Africa bating that of Nigeria and Egypt. We need to collaborate with South Africa beyond the South Africa Customs Union (SACU) arrangement. In fact, since it regained its freedom in 1994, the South African government has made it its duty to export its influence economically through promoting its companies in the continent. One country they have not aggressively paid attention to has been us. We are alive to the fact that in terms of population size, we don’t make economic sense compared to what they already have, but we have other comparative advantages which investors may be attracted too, for instance, peace, stability, a competitive labour market and access to bigger markets like COMESA, USA and European market.
But who do we speak to in South Africa?
There are two parties that we need to target. One of them is the government. We still need to negotiate and finalise the bilateral cooperative agreement which was left hanging during the era of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and Mabili Dlamini as foreign ministers in 2004. If we are going to be successful in attracting major investment into the Kingdom, we do need our neighbour to view us positively and without jealousy. Jealously amongst neighbouring States is not good as it tends to lead into funny restrictive immigration and customs policies. Big brother tendencies tend to dominate the economic space if relations with the neighbour are not good enough. Secondly, South Africa is a home to multi-billionnaires, whose net worth individually is almost the country’s Growth Domestic Product (GDP). Here I am talking about the likes of Shoprite owner, Pepkor Group Christo Wiese, whose net worth was about E100 billion at some point before Steinhoff shares collapse wiped out about E72 billion. Others are Johann Peter Rupert of Remgro and Swiss-based luxury goods company Richemont whose net worth is about E73 billion and Nicky Oppenheimer, the former De Beers Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Aglo American whose net worth is about E106 billion. Other South African billionaires are Koos Bekker of Naspers, a media mogul with net worth of E40 billion and Executive Chairman of African Rainbow Minerals (ARM) Patrice Motsepe whose net worth is about E30 billion. Motsepe is familiar with the Kingdom having studied law in the country in the 80s. He recently donated E10 million towards the UNESWA Foundation. Why are these billionaires interesting to Eswatini? South Africa is headed to its fifth general elections in May this year and already there is plenty of political uncertainty on the ground brought about the new African National Congress (ANC) policy of expropriating land without compensation. It appears the expropriation of land without compensation is targeted towards the whites. The ANC has been encouraged by its supporters in exchange for votes to pursue what it calls a radical economic transformation agenda. This policy is aimed at what it labels white monopoly capital, mainly the billionaires I have mentioned above. These are the people in the business community who hold lots of influence on investments and disinvestment. Just imagine what we stand to gain if we were to make them to think of Eswatini in the period South Africa regressing towards the familiar territory before the 1994 Mandela euphoria. For Eswatini, this should not be a difficult experience, we have been in this situation before during the apartheid period. This time around, we must be smart and ensure that we use our proximity, pegged currency and culture to our advantage. We seriously need to consider the Switzerland policies for the Kingdom, offer our big neighbours something they don’t have.
Now addressing the yes part
We can if it means turning the Kingdom into some financial capital through opening an offshore hub. Our small numbers mean we cannot compete in terms of market size, but we can turn ourselves into a highly sophisticated economy which may attract the big business that is already worried about its future. The virtual economy in terms of information communication technologies is something we need to push. That’s why the unbundling of Eswatini Post and Telecommunication Corporation (EPTC) needs to happen quickly. But in order to sell ourselves better and easier, we need our worthy neighbours to be part of our story. Eswatini may hold itself as a unique country with a rolls royce of a political system, but until and unless our neighbours confers to that, we will always miss our best suitors because we are too good to be true. Lastly, we will turn this economy around if local business starts to speak in one voice. The sooner we realise that the success of one is to the benefit of all, the better for us all.
We must refrain from the cheap politics of monopolizing the attention of the King. His Majesty the King’s strength rests in the collective success of us all, not in an individual company or group of people. The sooner we realise that the better for all of us. To the prime minister, let’s start the conversation with Pretoria, Johannesburg or Cape Town as soon as possible.
As someone from the corporate sector, you know better what I am talking about. You are in fact the most likely person to pull this one and be listened too than any other person. Happy New Year!
There are two parties that we need to target. One of them is the government.We still need to negotiate and finalise the bilateral cooperative agreement which was left hanging during the era of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and Mabili Dlamini as foreign ministers in 2004.
Commerce Industry and Trade Minister Manqoba Khumalo.