Background to the build-up of the expected invasion of our domestic market.
THE 1960s. Hendrik Verwoerd, dubbed 'the architect of apartheid', leads
South Africa out of the Commonwealth. In the new Republic, a government
obsessed by race tightens the screws of apartheid. Most members of the world
community impose sanctions. The South African minority government increases
the severity of its inhumane, racially based laws. In a frenzy of rooi gevaar paranoia, the Republic's rulers see
communists under every bed ... in every closet. To whip up
white support, they propagate the myth of 'total onslaught'.
AND SANCTIONS BEGIN TO BITE
Meanwhile, somewhere in the backwoods of the Eastern Cape
an amateur potter - let's call her Daphne - decides to turn
She installs a couple of potter's wheels in her garden
tool shed, invests in some clay and begins to produce a
limited number of cups and saucers. Their quality? Let's be
charitable and call it amateurish. Her prices? Way above
those of better finished imports.
Her business seems set to fail. Then she talks to her lawyer. He suggests
that she speak to the Member of Parliament who represents her constituency.
The "oom " lends a
sympathetic ear. He agrees that "uitlanders ", who make better
products and sell them cheaper, are competing unfairly with
Daphne. He speaks to someone with clout in the Cabinet.
Later that year the government slaps a punitive duty on
imported cups and saucers.
Daphne laughs. All the way to the bank.
Her business, like many others in South Africa, prospers
behind a barrier of protective tariffs. They have a captive
consumer market - a market with severely limited choices.
BUT THINGS HAVE CHANGED
Following South Africa's re-entry into the international arena as a
fully-fledged democracy, the days of invoking government protection to keep "uitlanders " on the outside
looking in are numbered.
Although it's dangerous to generalise, South African
business people aren't idiots. We know what's potting. Many
of us acknowledge the growing threat of foreign invasion. Yet
our defensive positions remain ill-prepared.
One reason is ...
COMPLACENCY BORN OF LONG PROTECTION
There are others. And their roots go deeper.
Asked by The Economist (March 20, 1993) to describe the
state of the South African economy, former Minister of Finance
Derek Keys uttered one word:
A TASTE FOR PROTECTIONISM
In the same issue, the magazine's international editor,
Peter David, elaborated - more eloquently, perhaps - on the
sorry state of the Republic's economy.
'A taste for protectionism set South Africa on its long
journey into the economic doldrums ...
'In the 1960s, a programme of import substitution was
intended to make the country self-sufficient and less
dependent on mineral exports. Instead it nurtured inefficient
industries and entrenched them behind high tariff walls.'
From 1975, real GDP on a per-person basis slumped.
Productivity - never high - dived in sympathy.
AND SANCTIONS BIT DEEPER
South Africa's main export was capital. Billions in funk
money sought refuge in foreign banks.
During the 1980s, tight foreign exchange controls,
designed to keep the money at home, aggravated the country's
Companies barred from spending their profits overseas
bought up domestic competitors. Ever-fewer hands controlled
Some economists believed that this over-concentration plus
taxes structured to favour wealth over income stifled the
spirit of entrepreneurship.
'The post-apartheid administration,' David concluded,
'will inherit an economy prostrate after decades of
incompetent management, over-government and the subordination
of economic goals to political ones.'
But as a hit song of yesteryear proclaims: 'Every cloud
has a silver lining.'
POTENTIAL FOR GROWTH
One of those who saw the light was Meyer Kahn, head of The
South African Breweries. He told The Economist that the
economy can grow by as much as 5% a year if conditions are
Kahn mentioned two.
Good financial management.
Azar Jammine, of Econometrix in Johannesburg, saw the
silver lining from another perspective. That of the ANC.
He believed the organisation's proposed social upliftment
programme would generate economic opportunities through the
large-scale construction of low-cost homes and schools as well
as the provision of water reticulation, sewerage and
IS THE RDP VIABLE?
Jammine was referring to the Government of National
Unity's Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP).
Some experts doubt its viability. George Ayittey, for
example. He reckons the programme will cost at least $22-
billion to implement.
So what makes Ayittey an expert?
His impressive credentials, perhaps.
For a start, he's Professor of Economics at the American University in
Washington. He's also a consultant to the World Bank and International
Monetary Fund and an advisor to the United States Department of Commerce.
Ayittey points out that $22-billion is a lot of cash, and
that President Nelson Mandela's chances of raising even half
the amount are remote. Even with the $5-billion in promised
grants and loans.
With the much-vaunted but cash-strapped RDP generating
promised reforms slower than a snail's pace, those who voted
the ANC into power in April 1994 have become more than merely
They've become downright angry. And they show it by
embarking on a seemingly endless series of strikes and protest
Meanwhile, the economy staggers from one crisis to another
through a minefield of political bickering, ad hoc work
stoppages, a rising tide of crime and growing unemployment.
A pretty sight South Africa isn't.
And yet it's ...
STILL AN ATTRACTIVE MARKET
Foreign-based manufacturers continue to see South Africa
as an attractive market. Ayittey points out in World Trade (July 1994): 'The country changed its form of government and
leadership without the usual bloody civil war. Mandela has
shown remarkable magnanimity towards his former opponents,
which bodes well for the retention of all the non-black
technologists and professionals needed to advance South
THE YANKS ARE COMING
The professor is apparently ignorant of the number of
South African 'non-black technologists and professionals'
currently boosting economic activity in Australia, Canada and
New Zealand - or the number still vying to get in.
Nevertheless, he sees opportunities for joint ventures by
American business in the 'First World segment' of the South
African economy and the 'Third World element'. The latter
consists of small entrepreneurs who belong to associations
that can steer American business people to 'capable partners'.
Because of the enormous need for basic housing, Ayittey
suggests potential American investors investigate the
viability of climbing into bed with local building contractors
and those who project-manage low-cost housing schemes.
He also cites commercial agriculture as a viable sector
'Up until 100 years ago,' he claims, 'black South Africans
operated large, successful commercial farms. They can do it
again with the requisite investment in agricultural
... SO IS EVERYONE ELSE
The Yanks aren't the only ones who are likely to come
poaching on your turf. Offensives will also be launched with
growing strength from the United Kingdom and Continental
But that's not the worst of it.
Expect the most serious assaults to come from the fast-
growing economies of the Pacific Rim.
As I noted earlier, South Africa is a country with a
bagful of unresolved problems. Many won't be resolved for
years, if at all.
So what makes the country so attractive to foreign
Over-developed industrial production capacities in their countries.
Their own shrinking domestic markets.
Most industrialised states produce more than they can
consume. South Africa looks like a good place to dump excess
production, particularly in view of a statement made by
Jeffrey Barten, United States Under Secretary of Commerce in
AMONG THE TOP 10
Barten places South Africa in the world's top 10 'emerging
markets'. That's a label officials in Washington give to
nations that offer the best new opportunities for American
Note the phrase the best new opportunities for American suppliers. If you're supplying someone with something right
now, you could be replaced by a Yank.
The other nine countries on Barten's hit parade are China,
Indonesia, India, South Korea, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil,
Poland and Turkey.
'Taken together,' he predicts, 'they could account for
more than half the world's trade over the next 20 years.
'Nearly 75% of the growth in world trade during the next
two decades will take place in developing countries,' he says
in World Trade. 'The emerging markets are likely to double
their share of world GDP in that time to 20% from today's 10%.
By the year 2010, their share of world imports is likely to
exceed that of Japan and the European Union combined.'
So we're one of the world's top 10 emerging markets. At
first glance it sounds great. At least we're in the world's
top 10 of something. But when you read between the lines to
get the real drift, alarm bells begin to sound.
What it means is that we must expect to face a level of
competition we've never before encountered.
Although South African businessmen have long opposed
protectionism as unwarranted governmental meddling in free
market forces, their protests have been muted. And when a
benevolent government imposed high import tariffs on foreign
goods that competed with theirs, the protests grew so muted
they became inaudible.
I'll be blunt about this: South African businesses on the
receiving end of 'import relief' have grown inefficient, lazy
Fortune (September 19, 1994) reports: 'A careful recent
survey of some 500 academic and business economists found
nearly three-quarters agree with the statement: "Tariffs and
import quotas reduce general economic welfare".'
By implementing the RDP, South Africa has begun to shift
from the failed import substitution policies of the past to
embrace the rigours of global competition. The partial removal
(at the time of writing) of protective tariff barriers on
automotive and textile imports is a clear signpost to future
Protectionism is out as we ...
GO FOR GATT
South Africa endorsed a world trade accord ratified in
Geneva on December 13, 1993. To promote world economic
growth, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) will
slash duties on 8 000 categories of manufactured goods.
Many of the products in these categories may well be yours.
If they are, are you in a position to resist when
foreigners ignite the fires of competition ... when offshore
marauders prise open every niche formerly dominated by
protected South African industries?
According to international competitiveness ratings the
answer is no.
BRINGING UP THE REAR
South Africa is ranked 35th out of 41 countries in the
latest 600-page World Competitiveness Report. Published in
September 1994 by IMD, a Swiss business school, and the Swiss
Economic Forum, a business research institute, the report
measures 381 criteria to assess competitiveness. Key factors
public sector deficits and debts;
business leaders' perceptions of their country's
strengths and weaknesses;
the degree of success achieved in blending public
sector national and private sector management
policies to create wealth from natural resources;
worker training, and
levels of productivity.
According to the report, the world's five most competitive
countries are the United States, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong
and Germany. Significantly, the winning nations boast strong
economies, are big in international trade and have little
direct government meddling in free market forces.
With South Africa bring up the near-rear in
competitiveness, transition to a new, free global market order
promises to be brutal, forcing wrenching changes in stone-age
corporate structures that, until now, had little motivation to
change. Government protection coupled to restrictive labour
legislation and repressive social laws held back innovation
and stunted growth.
THE DAY OF RECKONING APPROACHES.
But are South African companies prepared for it? The
response from 170 local businesses - large, medium and small -
was far from reassuring. Indeed, it was downright scary.