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GDP figures cap decade of negative GDP per capita growth – BLSA

11th March 2024

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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While the gross domestic product (GDP) growth for the fourth quarter of 2023 was 0.1%, growth was negative in terms of GDP per capita, given that population growth is outpacing it.

"We have been trending lower since 2013, and have now crowned a decade of negative per capita growth. South Africans now earn, in real terms, on average, what they earned in 2006," business organisation Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) CEO Busi Mavuso points out in her latest weekly newsletter.

Loadshedding eased in the fourth quarter, but logistical challenges were a major constraint on economic activity with port delays damaging exports and import volumes.

"This is a self-induced growth crisis that comes down to a failure of State-provided infrastructure and services. Inadequate electricity supply and logistical constraints were the key obstacles to growth," she says.

"This is why it is important for us to tackle the logistics crisis, while following through on the progress made to confront the electricity crisis."

Logistics and energy systems are important for business, which is why BLSA has dedicated considerable resources to working with government to resolve the challenges.

The National Energy Crisis Committee and the National Logistics Crisis Committee partnerships with government bring business expertise and resources to bear, including more than R170-million in funds raised by business to confront the crises.

"We are aligned through the Electricity Action Plan and the National Freight Logistics Roadmap, which are both good plans for how we can achieve deep structural change as well as short-term solutions to ease the impact of both crises," Mavuso says.

"We have the resources and the plans and, if there is sustained political will, we will succeed. The risk is that, in an election year, there are many distractions when we need to keep focus on delivering the reforms needed," she emphasises.

The national effort needs to focus on what matters, namely economic activity. Electricity, logistics, gas, water are important to enable it, as are many other things such as tackling crime and corruption.

"The people of South Africa are becoming poorer, and their legitimate aspirations to be able to work, generate incomes and take care of their families are being frustrated. It is incumbent on government and business to work together to support the economy by ensuring key network industries deliver and that utilities function as intended," Mavuso says.

Meanwhile, South Africa must also plan for emerging threats, including the national water system, which is an increasing concern.

"We have already seen how local water service delivery failures can damage business, forcing factories to close and relocate. Water service failures seem to be growing with reports of taps running dry from Mbombela to the south of Johannesburg. Incidents are blamed on crumbling infrastructure, loadshedding and a culture of non-payment by consumers."

Bulk water supply to large manufacturers and mining companies is an increasing concern, posing further risks to economic activity, she points out.

"We cannot resolve the energy and logistics crises only to be confronted with a new crisis that again means economic activity does not happen. While tackling immediate crises head-on is important, we must maintain vigilance on what the next major constraint is."

Similarly, the looming cut-off of gas supply to industrial users is a challenge South Africa is having to grapple with, but it is mobilising late in the day to try ensure gas consumers are not left unable to function mid-2025 when existing supplies will cease, she illustrated.

One of BLSA's strategic priorities is to support a capable State.

"We want the government to have the capacity to be effective in delivering services to business and the country at large. We want people and businesses to receive quality services from local and national government, as well as the State-owned entities.

"This goes beyond firefighting on crises but working at a more fundamental level to support the State to be effective, providing high-quality services and avoiding crises from emerging in the first place. That fundamental work is also an important part of our agenda."

The partnership between business and government is essential for the partners to achieve what they want for South Africa. The poor economic performance of the past decade must be consigned to the history books, and many in government want the same, Mavuso says.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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