1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The government of South Africa is generally open to foreign investment as a means to drive economic growth, improve international competitiveness, and access foreign markets. Merger and acquisition activity is more sensitive and requires advance work to answer potential stakeholder concerns. The 2018 Competition Amendment Bill, which was signed into law in February, 2019, introduced a mechanism for South Africa to review foreign direct investments and mergers and acquisitions by a foreign acquiring firm on the basis of protecting national security interests (see section on Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment below). Virtually all business sectors are open to foreign investment. Certain sectors require government approval for foreign participation, including energy, mining, banking, insurance, and defense.
The Department of Trade and Industry and Competition’s (the DTIC) Trade and Investment South Africa (TISA) division provides assistance to foreign investors. TISA has opened provincial One-Stop Shops that provide investment support for foreign direct investment (FDI), with offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, and a national One Stop Shop located on the DTIC campus in Pretoria and online at . An additional one-stop shop has opened at Dube Trade Port, which is a special economic zone aerotropolis linked to the King Shaka International Airport in Durban.
The DTIC actively courts manufacturing enterprises in sectors that its research indicates South Africa has a comparative advantage. It also favors manufacturing that it hopes will be labor intensive and where suppliers can be developed from local industries. The DTIC has traditionally focused on manufacturing industries over services industries, despite a strong service-oriented economy in South Africa. TISA offers information on sectors and industries, consultation on the regulatory environment, facilitation for investment missions, links to joint venture partners, information on incentive packages, assistance with work permits, and logistical support for relocation. The DTIC publishes the “Investor’s Handbook” on its website:
While the government of South Africa supports investment in principle and takes active steps to attract FDI, investors and market analysts are concerned that its commitment to assist foreign investors is insufficient in practice. Several investors reported trouble accessing senior decision makers. South Africa scrutinizes merger- and acquisition-related foreign direct investment for its impact on jobs, local industry, and retaining South African ownership of key sectors. Private sector representatives and other interested parties were concerned about the politicization of South Africa’s posture towards this type of investment. Despite South Africa’s general openness to investment, actions by some South African Government ministries, populist statements by some politicians, and rhetoric in certain political circles show a lack of appreciation for the importance of FDI to South Africa’s growth and prosperity and a lack of concern about the negative impact domestic policies may have on the investment climate. Ministries often do not consult adequately with stakeholders before implementing laws and regulations or fail to incorporate stakeholder concerns if consultations occur. On the positive side, the President, assisted by his appointment of four investment envoys in 2018, and a few business-oriented reformists in his cabinet, are working to restore a positive investment climate and appear to be making progress as they engage in senior level overseas roadshows to attract investment. Nevertheless, the government has not yet implemented any real economic reforms to address the structural deficiencies hindering South Africa’s economic growth.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Currently there is no limitation on foreign private ownership. South Africa’s transformation efforts – the re-integration of historically disadvantaged South Africans into the economy – has led to policies that could disadvantage foreign and some locally owned companies. The Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2013 (B-BBEE), and associated codes of good practice, requires levels of company ownership and participation by Black South Africans to get bidding preferences on government tenders and contracts. The DTIC created an alternative equity equivalence (EE) program for multinational or foreign owned companies to allow them to score on the ownership requirements under the law, but many view the terms as onerous and restrictive. Currently eight multinationals, most in the technology sector, participate in this program.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The last Trade Policy Review carried out by the World Trade Organization for the Southern African Customs Union, in which South Africa is a member, was in 2015. Neither the OECD nor the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has conducted investment policy reviews for South Africa.
According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, South Africa’s rank in ease of doing business in 2020 was 84 of 190, down from 82 in 2019. It ranks 139th for starting a business, 5 points lower than in 2019. In South Africa, it takes an average of forty days to complete the process. South Africa ranks 145 of 190 countries on trading across borders.
The DTIC has a national InvestSA One Stop Shop (OSS) to simplify administrative procedures and guidelines for foreign companies wishing to invest in South Africa. The DTIC, in conjunction with provincial governments, opened physical OSS locations in Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg. These physical locations bring together key government entities dealing with issues including policy and regulation, permits and licensing, infrastructure, finance, and incentives, with a view to reducing lengthy bureaucratic procedures, reducing bottlenecks, and providing post-investment services. Some users of the OSS complain that not all of the inter-governmental offices are staffed, so finding a representative for certain transactions has proven difficult. The virtual OSS web site is: .
The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), a body of the DTIC, is responsible for business registrations and publishes a step-by-step process for registering a company. This process can be done on its website ( ), through a self-service terminal, or through a collaborating private bank. New business registrants also need to register through the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to get an income tax reference number for turnover tax (small companies), corporate tax, employer contributions for PAYE (income tax), and skills development levy (applicable to most companies). The smallest informal companies may not be required to register with CIPC, but must register with the tax authorities. Companies also need to register with the Department of Labour (DoL) – – to contribute to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and a compensation fund for occupational injuries. The DoL registration takes the longest (up to 30 days), but can be done concurrently with other registrations.
South Africa does not incentivize outward investments. South Africa’s stock foreign direct investments in the United States in 2018 totaled USD 3.9 billion (latest figures available), a 5.6 percent decrease from 2017. The largest outward direct investment of a South African company is a gas liquefaction plant in the State of Louisiana by Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) and NASDAQ dual-listed petrochemical company SASOL. There are some restrictions on outward investment, such as a R1 billion (USD 83 million) limit per year on outward flows per company. Larger investments must be approved by the South African Reserve Bank and at least 10 percent of the foreign target entities voting rights must be obtained through the investment.