South Africa lacks economy plan, says billionaire chairman of continent’s largest company


Country lacks the ambition and determination of some other emerging markets such as India, China and Nigeria.

SOUTH Africa lacks a coherent economic policy and government departments are failing to work together, said Koos Bekker, chairman of Africa’s biggest company.

“South Africa has no economic policy,” said Bekker, 62, the billionaire chairman of Naspers Ltd., in an interview on Thursday at the company’s headquarters in Cape Town. “We have four or five departments within the economic cluster that do not talk to each other and have no commonality in their approach.”

Electricity shortages in Africa’s most industrialised economy are restricting production in the mining and manufacturing industries, which last year were hurt by strikes that curbed economic growth to its slowest since a 2009 recession. It’s also facing policy delays on issues ranging from shale-gas development to renewable fuels and telecommunications.

South Africa is expanding slower than other countries on the continent such as Kenya, which may grow 6.9% this year, and it displays some negative traits associated with more established markets, said Bekker. Still, its economy is more than 10 times the size of Kenya’s and its power-generating capacity 10-fold that of Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy.

Entitlement, comfort

“We have more of a sense of entitlement, of comfort and not quite the hunger that you would have expected” for an emerging market, he said. “South Africa is in a very odd situation because in many respects we ought to be an emerging market, but we display some traits of a mature market.”

South Africa lacks the ambition and determination of some other emerging markets such as India, China and Nigeria, according to Bekker.

While the country has Africa’s biggest capital market, almost a third of its people live below the extreme poverty line of 290 rand ($24.10) a month and 16 million people, or almost one in three of the population, receive welfare grants, according to official data.

South Africa’s national development plan seeks to lift average economic growth to 5.4 percent through 2030. Growth is constrained by “the sluggish global economic recovery,” Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene said in a speech to lawmakers in Cape Town on Thursday.

Phumza Macanda, a spokeswoman in the Treasury, didn’t respond to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

No consistency

The government needs better coordination on delivering its economic plans, Bekker said.

“The problem is that each department now acts autonomously with zero coordination, so there’s no cohesive message that goes out,” he said. “If foreign investors are welcome, we need to put out the message consistently that they are welcome and you can’t have discordance on the topic.”

Bekker, who led the company as chief executive officer for 14 years and was paid in company shares instead of a salary, returned in April after taking a year-long sabbatical to travel and seek out further growth opportunities for the Cape Town- based media company.

Naspers, which was formed in 1915 as a publisher of Afrikaans-language newspapers, is Africa’s largest company with a market value of 753 billion rand after investing in technology and media companies such as China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Russia’s The shares have risen 19 percent this year, compared with an 8 percent advance in Johannesburg’s benchmark FTSE/JSE Africa All-Share Index.

Bekker took control of the company as CEO in 1997 and oversaw the acquisition of stakes in more than 100 businesses. He owns a stake in the company as well as the wine farm Babylonstoren.

Naspers still owns South African newspapers and in addition to its Internet investments runs the continent’s largest pay-TV network. Naspers’ market value has grown about 40-fold under Bekker’s leadership.

—With assistance from Amogelang Mbatha in Johannesburg.

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