Energy, Water Are ‘Huge’ South Africa Opportunities, Maree Says

(Bloomberg) -- Mining, energy, water, manufacturing and agri-processing are industries that present “huge opportunities” for investors looking at South Africa, according to Jacko Maree, one of the four envoys President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed to attract $100 billion in investments to the country.

The envoys are concentrating on companies that already have an interest in South Africa, and potential investors want to know whether the country’s policies are growth- and investor-friendly, said Maree, 63, who is deputy chairman of Standard Bank Group Ltd., the continent’s biggest lender, and was its chief executive officer until March 2013.

Ramaphosa is on a drive to reignite an economy that hasn’t expanded more than 2 percent since 2013 as one of the world’s highest unemployment rates, tax increases and record fuel prices take their toll on businesses and consumers. Ramaphosa in April appointed Maree as part of a team that includes former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, former Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas and Astrapak Ltd. Chairwoman Phumzile Langeni to travel the world seeking commitments.

The team has had more than 150 engagements in countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, China and Canada, with investment pledges totaling $35 billion.

Mining Strengths

“We’ve really underplayed our strengths in mining -- we should be much bigger,” Maree said in an interview with Bloomberg TV Thursday. The nation is the world’s biggest platinum producer. “We need to rebuild manufacturing capacity in South Africa, so there are a range of opportunities in that area.”

Ramaphosa is hosting an investment summit next week as part of his effort to boost an economy that entered a recession this year. The conference is expected to be attended by the country’s largest companies as well as foreign businesses, money managers focused on infrastructure investments, private equity firms, sovereign wealth funds and development finance institutions. Ramaphosa has also announced a package of policy reforms including easing visa requirements to revive growth.

While these initiatives alone are not enough to boost confidence they provide a sense “that things are better,” Maree said in a separate interview in Bloomberg’s Johannesburg office. “Confidence is a very fragile thing. You can break it quite quickly, but to build business confidence” takes lots of effort, he said.

Follow the Lead

Foreign investors indicated they would “like to follow the locals” when it comes to making fixed investments, Maree said. Next week’s investment summit is expected to provide them with insight into the expansion plans of domestic companies, he said.

The challenge is getting South Africa’s economy “kick-started,” but once it starts moving, companies will be forced to catch up and invest in their businesses, Maree said. There is no shortage of funding in the economy as banks are keen to lend more toward “bankable projects,” he said.

Ramaphosa has also embarked on a plan to accelerate the redistribution of land to black owners 24 years after the end of white-minority rule. While the topic is of interest to investors, it is not a hindrance, Maree said.

“For anybody that understands South Africa the fact that we have to have land reform and deal with some of these issues is clear to all,” Maree said. “I don’t think there is any sense that property rights are under attack.”

Maree also serves as chairman of Standard Bank’s Liberty Holdings Ltd. insurance unit. He helped fend off a hostile bid for Standard Bank from Nedbank Group Ltd. after becoming CEO in 1999, and led an expansion into other African markets that are now fueling the lender’s growth. The bank’s share price climbed more than fivefold under his watch.

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