South Africa boasts the most advanced, broad-based economy on the African continent. The investment climate is fortified by stable institutions, an independent judiciary and vibrant legal sector committed to upholding the rule of law, a free press and investigative reporting, a mature financial and services sector, good infrastructure, and a broad selection of experienced local partners. South Africa encourages investment that develops manufacturing of goods for export.
South Africa is still fighting its way back from a “lost decade” in which economic growth stagnated, largely as a consequence of corruption and economic mismanagement during the term of its former president. Since assuming office in February 2018, South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has committed to improving the investment climate. The early steps he has taken are encouraging, but the challenges are enormous. At a minimum, South Africa will need to strengthen economic growth and stabilize public finances in order to reverse the credit downgrades by two of the three global ratings agencies. Other challenges include: creating policy certainty; reinforcing regulatory oversight; making state-owned enterprises (SOEs) profitable rather than recipients of government bail-outs; weeding out widespread corruption; reducing violent crime; tackling labor unrest; improving basic infrastructure and government service delivery; creating more jobs while reducing the size of the state (unemployment is over 27 percent); and increasing the supply of appropriately-skilled labor.
In dealing with the legacy of apartheid, South African laws, policies, and reforms seek to produce economic transformation to increase the participation of and opportunities for historically disadvantaged South Africans. The government views its role as the primary driver of development and aims to promote greater industrialization. Government initiatives to accelerate transformation have included tightening labor laws to achieve proportional racial, gender, and disability representation in workplaces, and ascriptive requirements for government procurement such as equity stakes for historically disadvantaged South Africans and localization requirements. Following the adoption of a resolution calling for land expropriation without compensation at the December 2017 conference of the African National Congress, investors are watching closely how the government will implement land reform initiatives and what Parliament will decide as a result of its review of the constitution on this issue.
Despite these uncertainties and some important structural economic challenges, South Africa is a destination conducive to U.S. investment; the dynamic business community is highly market-oriented and the driver of economic growth. President Ramaphosa aims to attract USD 100 billion in investment over the next five years. South Africa offers ample opportunities and continues to attract investors seeking a comparatively low-risk location in Africa from which to access the continent with the fastest growing consumer market in the world.
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2018||73 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2019||82 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2018||58 of 126||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2017||$7,334||http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2017||$5,430||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
South Africa recognizes the importance of foreign capital in financing persistent current account and budget deficits and openly courts foreign portfolio investment. Authorities regularly meet with investors and encourage open discussion between investors and a wide range of private and public-sector stakeholders. The government enhanced efforts to attract and retain foreign investors. President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted an investment conference in October 2018 and attended the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2019 to promote South Africa as an investment destination. South Africa suffered a two-quarter technical recession in 2018 with economic growth registering only 0.8 percent for the entire year.
South Africa’s financial market is regarded as one of the most sophisticated among emerging markets. A sound legal and regulatory framework governs financial institutions and transactions.
The fully independent South African Reserve Bank (SARB) regulates a wide range of commercial, retail and investment banking services according to international best practices, such as Basel III, and participates in international forums such as the Financial Stability Board and G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors. There are calls to “nationalize” the privately-held SARB, which would not change its constitutional mandate to maintain price stability. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) serves as the front-line regulator for listed firms, but is supervised in these regulatory duties by the Financial Services Board (FSB). The FSB also oversees other non-banking financial services, including other collective investment schemes, retirement funds and a diversified insurance industry. The South African government has committed to tabling a Twin Peaks regulatory architecture to provide a clear demarcation of supervisory responsibilities and consumer accountability and to consolidate banking and non-banking regulation in 2017.
South Africa has access to deep pools of capital from local and foreign investors which provide sufficient scope for entry and exit of large positions. Financial sector assets amount to almost three times GDP, and the JSE is the largest on the continent with capitalization of approximately USD 900 billion and approximately 400 companies listed on the main, alternative and other smaller boards. Non-bank financial institutions (NBFI) hold about two thirds of financial assets. The liquidity and depth provided by NBFIs make these markets attractive to foreign investors, who hold more than a third of equities and government bonds, including sizeable positions in local-currency bonds. A well-developed derivative market and a currency that is widely traded as a proxy for emerging market risk allows investors considerable scope to hedge positions with interest rate and foreign exchange derivatives.
The SARB’s exchange control policies permit authorized currency dealers, normally one of the large commercial banks, to buy and borrow foreign currency freely on behalf of domestic and foreign clients. The size of transactions is not limited, but dealers must report all transactions to SARB, regardless of size. Non-residents may purchase securities without restriction and freely transfer capital in and out of South Africa. Local individual and institutional investors are limited to holding 25 percent of their capital outside of South Africa. Given the recent exchange rate fluctuations, this requirement has entailed portfolio rebalancing and repatriation to meet the prescribed prudential limits.
Banks, NBFIs, and other financial intermediaries are skilled at assessing risk and allocating credit based on market conditions. Foreign investors may borrow freely on the local market. A large range of debt, equity and other credit instruments are available to foreign investors, and a host of well-known foreign and domestic service providers offer accounting, legal and consulting advice. In recent years, the South African auditing profession has suffered significant reputational damage with the leadership of two large foreign firms being implicated in allegations of aiding and abetting irregular client management practices that were linked to the previous administration, or of delinquent oversight of listed client companies. South Africa’s WEF competitiveness rating for auditing and reporting fell from number one in the world in 2016, to number 55 in 2018.
Money and Banking System
South African banks are well capitalized and comply with international banking standards. There are 19 registered banks in South Africa and 15 branches of foreign banks. Twenty-nine foreign banks have approved local representative offices. Five banks – Standard, ABSA, First Rand (FNB), Capitec, and Nedbank – dominate the sector, accounting for over 85 percent of the country’s banking assets, which total over USD 390 billion. The SARB regulates the sector according to the Bank Act of 1990. There are three alternatives for foreign banks to establish local operations, all of which require SARB approval: separate company, branch, or representative office. The criteria for the registration of a foreign bank are the same as for domestic banks. Foreign banks must include additional information, such as holding company approval, a letter of “comfort and understanding” from the holding company, and a letter of no objection from the foreign bank’s home regulatory authority. More information on the banking industry may be obtained from the South African Banking Association at the following website: .
The Financial Services Board (FSB) governs South Africa’s non-bank financial services industry (see website: ). The FSB regulates insurance companies, pension funds, unit trusts (i.e., mutual funds), participation bond schemes, portfolio management, and the financial markets. The JSE Securities Exchange SA (JSE) is the nineteenth largest exchange in the world measured by market capitalization and enjoys the global reputation of being one of the best regulated. Market capitalization stood at USD 900 billion as of November 2018, with 388 firms listed. The Bond Exchange of South Africa (BESA) is licensed under the Financial Markets Control Act. Membership includes banks, insurers, investors, stockbrokers, and independent intermediaries. The exchange consists principally of bonds issued by government, state-owned enterprises, and private corporations. The JSE acquired BESA in 2009. More information on financial markets may be obtained from the JSE (website: ). Non-residents are allowed to finance 100 percent of their investment through local borrowing. A finance ratio of 1:1 also applies to emigrants, the acquisition of residential properties by non-residents, and financial transactions such as portfolio investments, securities lending and hedging by non-residents.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) Exchange Control Department administers foreign exchange policy. An authorized foreign exchange dealer, normally one of the large commercial banks, must handle international commercial transactions and report every purchase of foreign exchange, irrespective of the amount. Generally, there are only limited delays in the conversion and transfer of funds. Due to South Africa’s relatively closed exchange system, no private player, however large, can hedge large quantities of Rand for more than five years.
While non-residents may freely transfer capital in and out of South Africa, transactions must be reported to authorities. Non-residents may purchase local securities without restriction. To facilitate repatriation of capital and profits, foreign investors should ensure an authorized dealer endorses their share certificates as “non-resident.” Foreign investors should also be sure to maintain an accurate record of investment.
Subsidiaries and branches of foreign companies in South Africa are considered South African entities and are treated legally as South African companies. As such, they are subject to exchange control by the SARB. South African companies may, as a general rule, freely remit the following to non-residents: repayment of capital investments; dividends and branch profits (provided such transfers are made out of trading profits and are financed without resorting to excessive local borrowing); interest payments (provided the rate is reasonable); and payment of royalties or similar fees for the use of know-how, patents, designs, trademarks or similar property (subject to prior approval of SARB authorities).
While South African companies may invest in other countries, SARB approval/notification is required for investments over R500 million (USD 43.5 million). South African individuals may freely invest in foreign firms listed on South African stock exchanges. Individual South African taxpayers in good standing may make investments up to a total of R4 million (USD 340,000) in other countries. As of 2010, South African banks are permitted to commit up to 25 percent of their capital in direct and indirect foreign liabilities. In addition, mutual and other investment funds can invest up to 25 percent of their retail assets in other countries. Pension plans and insurance funds may invest 25 percent of their retail assets in other countries.
Before accepting or repaying a foreign loan, South African residents must obtain SARB approval. The SARB must also approve the payment of royalties and license fees to non-residents when no local manufacturing is involved. When local manufacturing is involved, the dti must approve the payment of royalties related to patents on manufacturing processes and products. Upon proof of invoice, South African companies may pay fees for foreign management and other services provided such fees are not calculated as a percentage of sales, profits, purchases, or income.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
South Africa does not have a Sovereign Wealth Fund.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-owned enterprises (SOEs) play a significant role in the South African economy. In key sectors such as electricity, transport (air, rail, freight and pipelines), and telecommunications, SOEs play a lead role, often defined by law, although limited competition is allowed in some sectors (e.g., telecommunications and air). The government’s interest in these sectors often competes with and discourages foreign investment. South Africa’s overall fixed investment was 19 percent of GDP. The SOEs share of the investment was 21 percent while private enterprise contributed 63 percent (government spending made up the remainder of 16 percent). The IMF estimates that the debt of the SOEs would add 13.5 percent to the overall national debt.
The Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) has oversight responsibility in full or in part for seven of the approximately 700 SOEs that exist at the national, provincial and local levels: Alexkor (diamonds); Denel (military equipment); Eskom (electricity generation, transmission and distribution); South African Express and Mango (budget airlines); South African Airways (national carrier); South African Forestry Company (SAFCOL – (forestry); and Transnet (transportation). These seven SOEs employ approximately 105,000 people. For other national-level SOEs, the appropriate cabinet minister acts as shareholder on behalf of the state. The Department of Transport, for example, has oversight of the state-owned South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL), Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), and Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), which operates nine of South Africa’s airports. The Department of Communications has oversight of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). The National Treasury assumed control of South African Airways (SAA) in 2014 through 2018, but SAA has since returned to the DPE. .
Combined, South Africa’s SOEs that fall under DPE’s authority posted a loss of R15.5 billion (USD 1.3 billion) in the 2017/2018 financial year. In recent years many have been plagued by mismanagement and corruption, and repeated government bailouts have exposed the public sector’s balance sheet to sizable contingent liabilities. The election of President Cyril Ramaphosa and appointment of Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan signaled a renewed emphasis on improving SOE governance and performance.
The state-owned electricity giant Eskom generates approximately 95 percent of the electricity used in South Africa. Coal-fired power stations generate approximately 93 percent of Eskom’s electricity. Eskom’s core business activities are generation, transmission, trading and distribution. South Africa’s electricity system operates under strain because of low availability factors for base load generation capacity due to maintenance problems. The electricity grid’s capacity reserve margins frequently fall under two percent, well below international norms. Beginning in November 2013, Eskom periodically declared “electricity emergencies,” and asked major industrial users to reduce consumption by ten percent for specified periods (usually one to two days). To meet rising electricity demand, Eskom is building new power stations (including two of the world’s largest coal-fired power stations, but both are years overdue and over budget). Eskom and independent industry analysts anticipate South Africa’s electricity grid will remain constrained for at least the next several years. The South African government has implemented a renewable energy independent power producer procurement program (REIPPP) that in the past three years has added 1500Mw of a planned 3900Mw of renewable energy production to the grid and recently signed 27 Independent Power Producer agreements to provide an additional 2,300 MW to the grid. In February 2018, S&P announced that it “lowered its long-term foreign and local currency issuer credit ratings on South Africa-owned utility ESKOM Holdings SOC Ltd. to ‘CCC+’ from ‘B-‘.
Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA), the monopoly responsible for South Africa’s ports, charges some of the highest shipping fees in the world. In March 2014, Transnet announced an average overall tariff increase of 8.5 percent at its ports to finance a USD 240 million modernization effort. High tariffs on containers subsidize bulk shipments of coal and iron ore, thereby favoring the export of raw materials over finished ones. According to the South African Ports Regulator, raw materials exporters paid as much as one quarter less than exporters of finished products. TNPA is a division of Transnet, a state-owned company that manages the country’s port, rail and pipeline networks. In April 2012, Transnet launched its Market Driven Strategy (MDS), a R336 billion (USD 28 billion) investment program to modernize its port and rail infrastructure. Transnet’s March 2014 selection of four OEMs to manufacture 1064 locomotives is part of the MDS. This CAPEX is being 2/3 funded by operating profits with the remainder from the international capital markets. In 2016, Transnet reported it had invested R124 billion (USD 10.3 billion) in the previous four years in rail, ports, and pipeline infrastructure. In recent years ratings agencies have downgraded Transnet’s rating to below the investment-grade threshold. In November 2017 S&P downgraded Transnet’s local currency rating from BBB- to BB+.
Direct aviation links between the United States and South Africa are limited to flights between Atlanta, New York (JFK), and Washington (Dulles) to Johannesburg. The growth of low-cost carriers in South Africa has reduced domestic airfares, but private carriers are likely to struggle against national carriers without further air liberalization in the region and in Africa. The launch of the Single African Air Transport Market, which is composed of 23 African Union member states including South Africa, in January 2018 demonstrates the potential for further cooperation on the continent. In South Africa, the state-owned carrier, South African Airways (SAA), relies on the government for financial assistance to stay afloat and received back-to-back bailouts of R5 billion (USD 357 million) in 2018 alone to repay creditors. New management at SAA, including a new board and CEO offer some hope that SAA will implement its turnaround plan, but the airline has a long journey to recover from mismanagement and six consecutive years of losses. The new management has requested a R21.7 billion (USD 1.55 billion) bailout from government over three years to turn the company around. During fiscal year 2017/2018, SAA lost R5.7 billion (USD 407 million) bringing the company’s cumulative losses since 2011 to a total of R23 billion (USD 1.65 billion).
The telecommunications sector in South Africa, while advanced for the continent, is hampered by regulatory uncertainty and poor implementation of the digital migration, both of which contribute to the high cost of data. In 2006, South Africa agreed to meet an International Telecommunication Union deadline to achieve analogue-to-digital migration by June 1, 2015. As of April 2019, South Africa has initiated but not completed the migration. Until this process is finalized, South Africa will not be able to allocate the spectrum freed up by the conversion. Many of the issues stemmed from the confusion and infighting caused by the 2014 split of the Department of Communications into two departments—the Department of Communications (DOC) and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS). In November 2018, the Ramaphosa administration announced their re-incorporation into a single Department of Communications to take effect after the May 2019 elections.
In October 2016, DTPS released a policy paper addressing the planned course of action to realize the potential of the ICT sector. The paper advocates for open access requirements that could overhaul how telecommunications firms gain access to and use infrastructure. It also proposes assigning all high-demand spectrum to a Wireless Open Access Network. Some stakeholders, including state-owned telecommunications firm Telkom, agree with the general approach. Others, including the major private sector mobile carriers, feel the interventions would curb investment while doing little to facilitate digital access and inclusion. In November 2017, DTPS published a draft Electronic Communications Amendment Bill that would implement the ICT White Paper, but the Minister of Communications withdrew the bill in February 2019. Private industry and civil society had criticized the reach of the bill. The Minister stated that the DoC would consult with relevant stakeholders to re-draft the bill before submitting it to Parliament.
Although in 2015 and 2016 senior government leaders discussed allowing private-sector investment into some of the more than 700 SOEs and a recently released report of a presidential review commission on SOE that called for rationalization of SOEs, the government has not taken any concrete action to enable this. The CEO of SAA has stated that a fund-raising plan to sell a stake in SAA to an equity partner will be shelved until the airline can shore up its balance sheet. He announced the restructuring of the national carrier into three segments: international, regional, and domestic, but he has not articulated how that would occur in practice.
Other candidates for unbundling of SOEs / privatization are ESKOM and defense contractor Denel.