South Africa’s political climate is the most uncertain since the end of the apartheid era, with investors acutely concerned about a potential coalition between the governing party and a leftist group after next year’s elections, Investec Bank’s chief executive officer said.
Anxiety is intensifying over the implications of the African National Congress falling short of the 50% it needs to retain control of the continent’s most industrialized economy, Richard Wainwright said in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Wednesday.
That may push the party to tie up with the Economic Freedom Fighters, which advocates for the nationalization of banks, mines and land.
“There’s probably the highest level of uncertainty politically that we’ve had since 1994,” he said. “It does appear that they are siding in certain instances with the EFF. That will be very negative for international investors and domestic investors.”
The ANC has governed South Africa since the end of White-minority rule almost three decades ago. Opinion polls show it risks losing its majority next year because of a voter backlash over the party’s failure to tackle record power outages, along with rampant poverty, unemployment and inequality.
The ANC has linked up with the EFF and other smaller parties to take control of a number of city councils after local-government elections in November 2021.
The political uncertainty is serving as a deterrent to foreign investors, Wainwright said. He spoke a day before President Cyril Ramaphosa hosts an annual investment conference after setting a target in 2018 to attract R1.2 trillion of investment.
“We expected the current president, when he came into the presidency, to accelerate reforms, but unfortunately, we’ve not seen that,” the Investec CEO said. “I think the level of uncertainty on the politics will again make it very difficult to currently attract a significant investment both international and domestic.”
So far, South Africa has “realized” R1.1 trillion of investment since Ramaphosa set the target, the president’s spokesman, Vincent Magwenya, said on Wednesday.
Investors will be looking to the president for details on government plans to deliver on structural reforms, including restructuring power utility Eskom, expanding electricity-grid capacity and improving the ease of doing business in South Africa, Wainwright said.
“Unfortunately, we’ve got a general election next year, so significant policy changes are going to be difficult, so our baseline expectation is that we are not going to see massive policy shifts, which we need — we need the structural reform to attract the international investment,” he said.
“I don’t think anything is going to happen until after the elections next year.”