Business finds itself caught up in the midst of great uncertainty in South Africa and it is permeating to KwaZulu-Natal in local spheres of government and civil society.
“People are worried and perplexed,” said Moses Tembe, co-chairman of the KZN Growth Coalition, at this week’s coalition breakfast in Durban.
“Where is our leadership taking us? How did we end up in this position? Are we caught up in a game of showing each other – business, government, political parties, labour and communities – who is boss?
“It seems that every recommendation each stakeholder makes, others do the opposite, no matter how this affects the interests of the country,” Tembe said.
The annual meeting of business and political leaders addresses development goals and achievements and highlights challenges impeding growth in the province.
Tembe used the platform to deliver a stinging message to government – represented by the KZN Premier, Willies Mchunu, and the MEC for Economic Development and tourism, Sihle Zikalala – as he called for an urgent bosberaad to address key economic issues in KZN.
He said political factionalism aside, the “big elephant in the room” was job creation.
But recognising this challenge was not enough – business, government, political parties, labour and civil society had to commit to a template that facilitated creating new jobs.
“For many of us the equation is relatively simple: confidence induces investments which boost economic growth that results in job creation. If you accept this as a theory, you will realise that the bigger elephant in the room is actually confidence,” he said.
“We find ourselves in the midst of a great deal of uncertainty at national level: red lights are flashing. Business confidence has deteriorated as never before. Any responsible player who knows how South Africa functions will understand that the Reserve Bank and Treasury are the heart of the economy. Issues that are likely to impact these organs of state have to be given due and proper care. Business is not saying there is anyone beyond the law. We have a problem with the lack of due care that has resulted in the annihilation of business confidence due to a lack of clarity, decisiveness and sensationalism of a delicate issue like this one,” he said, referring to the on-going battle between Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan and the Hawks.
Tembe called on government to communicate positively for the sake of the economy rather than run the risk of destructive speculation.
“Perceptions are everything. Are we really being seen … to be inspiring confidence? Look at the manner we behave as business people – colluding on construction tenders, prices of cement, steel, food and lately on feeding schemes and grant pay outs.
“Look at the manner government and political parties behave: internecine factional wars relating to treasury, the killing of ward councillors, public servants and representatives who are bent on skimming and stealing from the public purse – an offence that is punishable by death in China.
“As communities, we continue to make our country unsafe. Criminals who are members of society are allowed a field day. A poor work ethic and lack of productivity have become the order of the day. Whilst this country has many great opportunities for investment covering industries such as food, energy, health-care, infrastructure, tourism etc, we owners of capital both locally and abroad appear to be sitting tight. A cloudy macro environment will affect interest rates and our currency negatively as well as the positive sentiment so needed by potential investors,” he said.
Against this background, Tembe pointed out that the private sector had always been an honest and committed partner to provincial government via the KZN Growth Coalition, working to identify and unlock projects that were meaningful to both KZN and South Africa.
Since the previous KZN Growth Coalition breakfast, Tembe said that a number of developments were well underway, including Cornubia, north of Durban and the Mr Price logistics hub at Keystone Industrial Park and the nearby interchange at Inchanga.
In addition, the Umhlanga Rocks / Mount Edgecombe Interchange – the largest of its kind in the country – was well underway, contracts had been issued for bulk services at the Durban Point Development and both the R3-billion Umhlanga Pearls and the multi billion rand Oceans development behind it were also under construction.
“The Sibaya precinct is forging ahead with many developers already on site. The Clairwood Logistics Park, Kings Estate, Blythedale Coastal Resort and Finningley Estate should, with your intervention, Mr Premier, be under construction early next year,” he added.
However, he warned that the Suncoast, the Natal Command, Centrum and the Exhibition precincts – key to the 2022 Commonwealth Games needed to be unlocked immediately.
He asked government to address other key challenges faced by investors and developers including restrictive financial regulations and the Labour Act which made it difficult to remove incompetent staff, Visa regulations which, although recently improved, still negatively impacted tourists, up scaling municipal competencies and problems surrounding the release of agricultural land for development.
Tembe noted that the views he had expressed came from “a business collective which represented a broader grouping of intelligent, committed, capable and patriotic citizens”.
“This province boxes well above its weight division in terms of influencing national issues and dynamics and we, as representatives of the investment and business sector, look to you and your cabinet to provide the kind of stability, leadership and guidance that will enable KZN to continue to shine. … Self-confidence promotes confidence in others and so we need to find a way out of this national hiatus and to build on our strengths,” he concluded.
Mchunu and Zikalala agreed to the bosberaad and voiced support for coalition.
Zikalala said provincial government was aware both the public and private sectors were critical to the economy and they played different but complementary roles. If one party did not play its role, economic development would be in jeopardy.
He said economic conditions were not as dire as they seemed and investment was still happening, including another major investment at the Dube TradePort due to be announced in October.