Martin Schäfer: Don't make investment in SA an ideological issue

11.03.2019 - Article

“German companies don't just want to make a quick buck and leave at the slightest headwind. They understand that they must commit to transformation and overcoming the legacy of apartheid”, writes Ambassador Schäfer in his OpEd for News24.com.

Ambassador Schäfer's column at News24
Ambassador Schäfer's column at News24© News24 (Screenshot)

German companies don't just want to make a quick buck and leave at the slightest headwind. They understand that they must commit to transformation and overcoming the legacy of apartheid, writes Martin Schäfer.

Much has been said and written about foreign investment in the past few weeks and the value it has for the economy. While I can't speak for every investor, I can speak confidently of the German position when it comes to investing in South Africa.

German investors have a long history in South Africa. Take companies such as Siemens – here since 1860, Bosch – here since 1906, and Volkswagen – since 1951. They have come here to stay and have long become South African corporate citizens.

Let's look at only one of many examples of what German investment in South Africa actually means: in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape, thousands of jobs thrive in and around German carmaker Volkswagen's production plant. German investment in this case enhances South African exports. The new Polo or the BMW X3, made in South Africa, are unique, modern and creative products of German engineering and South African workmanship. A true partnership.

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Several hundred German companies are active in South Africa – from global brands like Mercedes, BASF or Merck, to small and specialised manufacturers, very often hidden champions and world leaders in their field of expertise. In total, German firms employ more than 100 000 skilled workers in South Africa – and many more if we include their networks and suppliers.

But not only that, they have also been creating a skills-base that is here to stay. German car manufacturer BMW has been running a training centre in Rosslyn, Tshwane, for workers in the auto and manufacturing sectors for the past 40 years. Anyone visiting will be impressed by its size, its hard- and software. The carmaker has provided millions of training hours at the site – providing young South Africans with skills they will benefit from throughout their working life.

German companies don't just want to make a quick buck and leave at the slightest headwind. They understand that they need to commit to transformation and to overcoming the legacy of the apartheid past.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has undertaken bold, courageous and very important steps to attract exactly this kind of investment. We think that's very good news and we have supported these efforts wholeheartedly.

When I talk to German entrepreneurs and investors, they tell me what's crucial to them when it comes to making their long-term investment plans – and get them approved at corporate headquarters at home. One key topic is certainty. Decision-makers here and back home look for fair and dependable conditions to do business, for an unequivocal commitment to the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and to honest and ethical business practices. They also seek a fair playing field and comprehensive guarantees for their investment.

The years leading up to 2018 were a difficult period in South Africa, and many abroad shared this sentiment. It is no secret that these years were marked by much scepticism as to where South Africa was heading.

That has changed. It has changed a lot. We have been following the government's policy decisions and announcements very closely. A lot of efforts are being made to fully reestablish trust and confidence amongst domestic and international investors. This is important news for an investor but most importantly, this is good news for South Africa.

Investment means growth. Investment means jobs. It means better prospects for local communities. Investment means support for South Africa's path in attaining its transformation objectives. That's why, in my view, any commitment to attracting investment mustn't become an ideological issue.

When President Ramaphosa spoke at the European Parliament last November, he evoked the great Nelson Mandela, saying that Mandela had always argued that lasting peace and security on the continent would not be possible without economic development.

“Without opportunity, without investment, without thriving economies that enable us all to enjoy our place in the sun, we cannot hope to have political and social stability on the African continent,” President Ramaphosa said.

We share the goal of a united and prosperous South Africa; a South Africa that provides a place in the sun to all.

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