Roberto CoelhoBy Roberto Coelho|December 9, 2021|6 Minutes|In Opinion


"After COVID, what else will keep you up at night?"

Over the past 22 months, the entire world has focused on two words: the pandemic! From politicians to business leaders ; school children to grandparents.

 “There has been a seismic shift and the financial integrity of our economies were shaken by the pandemic,” said the CEO of Absa International, Cheryl Buss.

This is maybe not overstating it. The pandemic has brought turmoil and chaos as well as opportunity; countless businesses closed – others adapted. What is the approach of the leaders of business – the CEOs to an uncertain future? I went to find out.

“Focus is now on recovery and growth. Strategies are changing from survive to thrive. To rethink and rebuild,” says Buss.

As the world moves out of the pandemic ,the conversation changes to the next biggest problem facing South Africa. Newspaper headlines would suggest it to be Eskom, Transnet, or any other inefficient government system.

“The worst SOE is Transnet, not Eskom or South African Airways,” said by Mario Marcenaro the CEO of Finstone.

This may be true, yet the pandemic has shown individuals tend to focus on the immediate crisis rather than the larger one in the making, COVID vs the environment for example. This is understandable, however if this holds true and focus is on the immediate crisis, may there be a larger problem than Eskom or Transnet?

Before debating this, let us review a quote by Mark Zuckerberg.

“I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person.”

A bit complicated but, Zuckerberg’s statement maybe suggests the most important aspect to his successful business is not the product, rather the quality of the employees.
Thus, if the most important part of the seventh largest company in the world are the employees, it may be said the most important part of a country’s success are the citizens.

“We have a lot of very good ideas, but that’s like having an advertising campaign for a product that is not able to reach the market,” said by Mario Marcenaro.

Marcenaro was referring once again to poor policy and weak infrastructure which reduces South Africa’s ability to compete at a global level.

But when diving deeper into these very problems, there is a miss match between plans at Presidential level and the implementation.

Since President Ramaphosa came into office, numerous economic plans with sound principles and achievable goals were announced.

But the implementation is where the country falls short because of a lack of the correct skills in the correct places.

“If your car breaks down, you need to understand the engine. You will not take it to the engineers who developed the car but rather to the mechanic,” said by Marcenaro.

To repair a car a skilled mechanic is required, not anyone else. This principle must be applied to all aspects of society.

By stating the above there may be a suggestion that South Africa does not develop skilled individuals.

This is not the case; our country develops world class talent. Most mentioned is Elon Musk or Dr Christiaan Barnard. But I invite you to Google the richest medical doctor in the world, the result: Patrick Soon Shiong, born in Port Elizabeth and educated at the University of Witwatersrand.

Musk and Soon Shiong both now reside in the United States. Moving on from high profile names, over the past five years at least 100 000 skilled South African citizens have left the country on a permanent basis per year.

If Zuckerburg cannot run Meta alone, Ramaphosa cannot run South Africa alone. Simply put, the biggest problem facing the nation is the high rate of middle-class South Africans emigrating.

There is no short-term fix, there is no generator alternative to power the business as with loadshedding. Once one leaves, replacing that individual may take up to five years, assuming educators are still in the country.
But Marcenaro says, “The opportunity this country has is unparalleled to any African country.”

Furthermore, one will be hard-pressed to find a tourismsite not recommending South Africa as a top 10 global tourism destination.

Thus, there are vast opportunities together with great beauty. So, the question must be asked; why are South African’s leaving in the thousands?

This is a complex question to answer, however a simplified reason is it is not mentally attractive.

While many local and international investors see potential in South Africa, they are still hesitant to commit.

The CEO of Stellantis South Africa, Leslie Ramsoomar, says: “The private sector is ready to invest, it has the means to invest but policy is important, so that the investment will be secure.”

Stellantis is part of the motor manufacturing division, employing 450000 people, and contributing 5% to GDP.

Future investment hangs on policy, specifically the ease and safety of doing business.