Thu, 21 Nov 2019

I wasn't quite ready to descend into the standard fare of load-shedding, flat-lining growth and the general fractiousness and tortured wars of the South African economic bun-fight. I didn't want to get moody.

Not after the magnificence of last weekend when our national hope was re-seeded on a rugby pitch in Yokohama Stadium as captain Siya Kolisi and coach Rassie Erasmus showed us what we might be.

So, to be honest, I've avoided the real world of my normal news week and went instead to the SA Investment Conference.

There are always interesting people there, but I could not see how President Cyril Ramaphosa was going to beat last year's tally of an R290-billion haul in investment promises.

I mean, how? The indices of business confidence, consumer confidence, national debt and growth are all heading south faster than plane-loads of emigres again packing for Perth.

It was all verified before the announcements, and the pledges were all based on project timelines designed by Makhaya and her team: it's a no-bull conference in its design.

Several times this year, I checked in with Makhaya on progress on the 2018 pledges and each time, she was able to give detailed updates on how the pledged investments were progressing.

Makhaya is also responsible for benchmarking South Africa and to ensure it climbs up the World Economic Forum's competitiveness index, as well as the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business report. This is one of the goals Ramaphosa set for himself: to push South Africa's rankings north. But it's not easy.

South Africa has come down in both largely because of the years of state capture, which saw us lose points on institutional effectiveness and fiscal prudence. Eskom has burnt a hole in our national standing too. Makhaya reckons we should see the positive impacts of the back-office work in the 2020 rankings.

Who is Trudi Makhaya?

Raised in Hammanskraal and schooled at St. Barnabas College in Bosmont, Johannesburg, Makhaya went on to study at Oxford where she read for a Masters and an MBA. She added a second MSc.

Upon her return to South Africa, she quickly climbed the corporate ranks at AngloGold Ashanti, Genesis Analytics and in various other management consultancy and corporate roles.

But then, Makhaya started in public service at the Competition Commission where she became deputy commissioner. In that role, she was part of the team which red-carded the construction cartel for collusion. This was a landmark moment in South Africa, shedding light on the skewed structure of the economy, which is strangled by anti-competitiveness.

She subsequently branched out on her own but was then headhunted by Ramaphosa when he became president.

At this week's investment conference, Makhaya avoided the limelight, watching carefully in the wings as pledges unfolded, promising billions of rands in investment and as much as 412,000 jobs over the medium to long term. It was clear that hundreds of hours of work had gone into the conference in a rare (but hopefully growing) spirit of South African can-do.

In an annexe at the Sandton venue, the detailed work of aligning the provincial investment offerings with the national investment book bore fruit: each province put on quite an exposition of their opportunities on offer.

Study in excellence

I go to these things regularly and never have I seen so much information with such keen officials showing off what they could offer investors with appetites. The gloss was great.

But the lived experience of investors who suffer power outages or water-shedding as both Eskom and municipalities disappoint, can make it tough when the rubber hits the road.

South Africa has immediate crises the investment promise can't ameliorate. We have roughly 60 odd days to stave off that crisis before Moody's moves the country into junk status with its awful implications.

There is a long cycle between investment promise and outcome - so even last year's set of pledges, while kept, are not showing through in the macro or microeconomic indicators yet.

But Makhaya deserves recognition for being a study in excellence and exemplifying a spirit of public service that the decade of state capture tried to stamp out.

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