South Africa needs true experts, not political appointees

Carin Smith

Durban – South Africa needs strong leadership to put experts in the right places instead of politically-motivated appointments, Investec Asset Management director Jeremy Gardiner cautioned on Thursday at the 19th Congress of the South African Council of Shopping Centres in Durban.

“We just need to get the right people in charge of the areas that are not working,” explained Gardiner, who gave his views about what should be done to make SA a place that will lure investors.

Gardiner gave parastatals like South African Airways, PetroSA with its huge losses, Eskom and the ministry of mining as examples of areas where experts instead of political appointments are needed.

It is all very well for government to ask business to tighten belts, said Gardiner, but he wanted to know when politicians are going to stop using private planes or sending up to 80 delegates abroad to conferences.

“About 75% of South Africa’s problems are, however, because we are an emerging market. Many factors impacting us – and other emerging markets – at the moment are therefore out of our control,” he said.

When conditions in emerging markets start to improve, the negative impact of these factors beyond the country's control will subside.

“A trillion dollars flowed out of emerging markets last year, but this money has to come back at some point as First World retirement funds need higher returns – which they can only find in emerging markets.”

The true value of the rand at the moment in his view is probably about R9.50 to the dollar.

Gardiner believes SA has actually been very well managed from a financial point of view over the past 20 years, while many First World countries are technically bankrupt at the moment.

SA should position itself as the Hong Kong of Africa – that is, as the springboard into the rest of the continent, said Gardiner. The country should also use the weak rand to increase its value proposition for medical tourism to the country – something India is exploring very successfully at the moment.

Gardiner would also like to see the new visa regulations changed so that SA can use the weak rand to lure more tourists.

“As Africans we must start adding value and we can do that with hard work and productivity – which we are able of doing,” said Gardiner.

He also cautioned that if Africa is to reap the economic benefits its young population can bring, these young people have to be educated properly. And he would like to see University of the Free State rector and vice-chancellor Professor Jonathan Jansen head up SA’s education rescue.

* Carin Smith is a guest of the SACSC at its congress.