May 2011

Voices from Industry

South Africa: a land of opportunity

By Mohau Pheko, South Africa’s high commissioner to Canada

One of South Africa’s greatest offerings is opportunity. South Africans are instinctive pioneers, unafraid of trying new methods and creating technologies that will improve the mining process and, as a result, the country now leads the way in deep mining technology.

According to Citibank NA, last year South Africa’s mineral reserves were valued at around $2.5 trillion – more than any other country in the world. According to data from Bloomberg, South Africa remains the largest producer of platinum and the second-largest miner of palladium. In addition, the country has exposure to most of the “top 10” minerals – such as iron ore, gold, coal, copper and nickel – in high demand around the globe.

Some of the world’s top mining companies – BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, PotashCorp, Barrick and Teck, to name but a few — are helping to demystify negative perceptions about South Africa by investing here. And, our exploration potential is extensive. There is ample opportunity to join women-owned, deep-level, hard-rock mining companies as well as junior and major mining companies that are testing the use of modern techniques yet to be applied in mining.

South Africa’s four top banks – First National Bank (FNB), ABSA, NEDBANK and Standard Bank – are listed among the 1,000 strongest banks in the world, based on governance and other factors. Actually, the banking system in general here is very well rated. Also, the rapid penetration of mobile phones into rural South Africa has made the country a pioneer in transferring money, paying bills and buying airtime on mobile phones. And, who in the world would have thought we could construct the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere in a little unknown town called Southerland?

We are a country that knows how to spot and embrace opportunity; perhaps it is our youthfulness that explains our lack of fear. Like most African countries, South Africa is a young market with a large percentage of our population under the age of 15. In contrast, Canada is aging rapidly. Because Africa is estimated to reach nearly two billion people by mid-century (according to United Nations Population Division), we offer a growth potential in just about every sector of our mining industry.

South Africa is not only an investment destination, it is an investor in Canada. For example, South African petrochemical group Sasol, a leader in converting natural gas and coal into liquid, uses a South African-created technology to extract gas from shale and other rock. The company will be spending US$1.1 billion for a 50 per cent stake in Talisman’s Cypress A gasfields in British Columbia.

Similar to the role Singapore plays in Asia, South Africa serves as the gateway to Africa, in addition to being the leading economy in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country is also a champion in promoting the African Agenda in the global community. In his book The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier states that “countries do better if their neighbouring countries are doing well.” What an accurate description of the ripple effect produced by South Africa.

Taking advantage of the abundance of opportunities in South Africa requires one to lose their misperceptions about an Africa riddled with chaos. Opportunities also lie in untapped markets across South Africa, appealing to those with an entrepreneurial spirit that thrives on venturing into territories yet to be conquered. As Vijay Mahajan, author of Africa Rising, put it: “It’s taking barefoot consumers and moving them up to inexpensive flip-flops or gel shoes.”

When our detractors said we could not deliver democracy, we held one of the most peaceful democratic elections post-apartheid in 1994. When they said we did not have the know-how to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, we showcased our “can do anything” attitude and proved them wrong.

South Africa is a land of opportunity. If you have an interest in finding new ways of organizing the marketplace and are willing to embrace black economic empowerment, it is worth your while to invest in South Africa. Here, you will form solid business partnerships with a generation of business leaders and visionaries who strive to see their ventures produce enormous profits. Come and discover what we have to offer.

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