South Africa at Davos 2023: A statement of intent

At Davos, President Ramaphosa and his team will emphasise that they have what it takes to drive the reforms that will make the country an even more attractive destination for investors.

When team South Africa appear at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, they will come with an uncommonly strong message. The high-powered team, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa himself, will have in their arsenal a slew of opportunities that they can showcase to the global movers and shakers who will have assembled in the Swiss Mountain resort.

This confidence owes a lot to the country’s innate resilience. The Rainbow Nation, which survived apartheid to become an example of harmony and inclusivity, certainly knows a thing or two about surviving turbulent times. 

Just as important, however, are the steps that the country is taking to address the challenges it faces, both the internal ones as well as the exogenous shocks it has had to face. On the energy distribution front, the government has committed to taking on a significant part of Eskom’s $24bn debt, freeing up the company to invest in improvements to its infrastructure and output.

Close-up shot of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at WEF annual meeting in January 2019.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa attends a session during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in January 2019. (Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

With an eye towards climate change and the future, South Africa has also produced an ambitious energy transition plan, which will see it shed its reliance on coal, a plan that has been endorsed by the International Partners Group, which includes the US, the UK and the European Union, which will act as a blueprint for others to emulate. 

Since taking over, President Ramophosa has revitalised the fight against corruption, including by reforming the leadership of the crime fighting agencies, which has led to increased prosecution and convictions. In addition, government has committed to implementation of recommendations by the Zondo Commission, which investigated the vexed issue of state capture and corruption.

To boost investment, the government has designated 13 special economic zones around the country, where companies can expect incentives such as preferential tax rates and export support – firm grist for the kinds of partnerships and deals that are fomented and struck when the captains of global industry meet with national leaders for the annual event. 

Tenacious pursuit of reforms

The government’s overall strategy is to tenaciously pursue structural reforms that will lead to improved economic performance, better social services and the consolidation of its leadership role on the African continent. Long a dream destination for investors, both in itself and as a gateway to Africa, its reforms will make South Africa an even more attractive option for global firms looking for a foothold in – or seeking to consolidate their position on – the continent. 

In addition to the traditional sectors of manufacturing, mining, infrastructure, technology and telecommunications, the government is also supporting high growth sectors such as automotive, clothing and textiles, gas, chemicals and plastics, renewable energy, and agriculture. There are also nascent opportunities in oil and gas exploration, upstreaming of the gas industry, green hydrogen, the blue economy and hi-tech industries.

Added to all these are the advantages that will come with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, which will create the largest single market in the world and in which South Africa is a key player. 

Much will depend, of course, on the success of the government’s ambitious agenda. And at Davos, President Ramaphosa and his team will be keen to emphasise that they have what it takes to drive these reforms and meet their goals. Its record of overcoming adverse winds will suggest that the safe bet is with South Africa.