The infamous diplomatic memo may actually be a good sign

President Cyril Ramaphosa speaking at the Business Unity of South Africa (BUSA) Strategic Dialogue for a Transformed and Inclusive Economy held in Gallagher Estate, Midrand, North of Johannesburg. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi African News Agency (ANA)

President Cyril Ramaphosa speaking at the Business Unity of South Africa (BUSA) Strategic Dialogue for a Transformed and Inclusive Economy held in Gallagher Estate, Midrand, North of Johannesburg. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi African News Agency (ANA)

It is fascinating that five Western countries with considerable business ties with South Africa have effectively sent a warning shot across the bows of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The governments of the US, UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland want the president and ANC leader to ensure the law takes its course when it comes to corruption – and that government starts to make the country more appealing to investors.

The approach to Ramaphosa is fascinating because there was no similar approach to the highest office in the country when the plundering and looting were at their height in the years of the Jacob Zuma administration as the state capture network began to be laid down. Perhaps they despaired then of ever making Zuma change; perhaps it was “business as usual”.

But – and most encouragingly – they could be engaging with Ramaphosa because they do genuinely believe he can pull this country back from the brink of incompetence and looting. The message – which has been communicated to the government on a number of levels over a period – is that foreign investors want to see a country where the rule of law is enforced … and that those who violate it (through corruption primarily) will be dealt with.

The current Commission of Inquiry into State Capture is being closely watched in those capitals – and a concern is that there should be prosecutions to follow all the damning evidence emerging.

However, just as important to foreign investors is a climate where they know their money is safe, and where there is as little red tape (especially when it comes to labour laws) as possible when doing business. And those are areas in which the ANC still has a lot of work to do to convince outsiders that South Africa is truly “open for business”.

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