Beijing – Naspers, Discovery and Standard Bank received special mention for their “bravery and courage” to enter the Chinese market and President Cyril Ramaphosa says many more companies should do the same.
Ramaphosa told a breakfast session with South African business delegates on Sunday in Beijing, ahead of the Forum for Africa-China Cooperation (Focac) summit this week, that market access for South African companies into China was important to balance the trade deficit between the two countries.
“Now we export more commodities and China exports more value added goods. We would like to see that balance and China also agrees and wants to welcome more value added goods from South Africa.”
He said that he would use his time in Beijing to push the market access envelope through engagements in order to remove barriers.
Leader of South African organised business in Beijing, Kobus van der Wath, said there was a real opportunity for business in China, also citing the success of Naspers and others as an example.
“The fact is that we have not fully tapped the opportunity as much as we can and to do this better we need to have a common view and voice,” Wath said.
According to Van der Wath, “a clearly articulated strategy at various levels of government and organised business” would enhance the prospects for South African companies to enter the Chinese market, and similar lessons could be drawn from other smaller economies like Denmark and New Zealand. “Team SA needs to come together in a stronger way to benefit from collective experience [so that we do] not keep repeating the same mistakes.”
“Nothing will ever really flourish without leadership. It is not about who will take the lead but all of us need to step forward,” he said.
“Task teams, executives, boards, industry associations need to think, plan and act differently. It all starts with leadership.”
Van der Wath said South African companies also needed to understand China a lot better and the answer was to compile strategic intelligence through available think tanks.
“We can still understand China a lot better and we can still have a truly strategic grasp of China.”
He said the South African ambassador in China, Dolana Msimang, had launched an initiative for businesspeople to come together and “watch this space because we are still going to do more”.
The Black Business Council’s Sandile Zungu said organised business had a responsibility “to support the efforts of government and also to leverage on the presence of political leadership in an environment like this one”, referring to the relationship as symbiotic.
He said business must “present and put the best foot forward for South Africa to attract investments”.
He also praised Naspers, Discovery and Standard Bank, saying that more emerging entrepreneurs in South Africa were coming.
“We are coming. There are a lot of us who want to follow in those great steps and establish new giants in China.”
He said a prime goal was to do away with poverty and inequality in South Africa and the African continent as a whole.
Ramaphosa said that South Africa could also learn from China in terms of skills development as it had moved ahead.
“We are sending most of our young people here. I can speak with a measure of experience as my son also came here to do his masters. He also left this place having found himself a wife in Uganda so he did not not only come to learn but also for romantic stuff,” he said.
He said China had made “an offering for us for young people to come here and gain skills” and we can learn a lot from the way that they have been able to charge ahead in a number of areas and the opportunities are enormous”.
Ramaphosa said South Africa was well positioned because it was the most industrialised country on the continent, other than the opportunity of being the gateway to Africa.
“We can capitalise on that and it is a great opportunity. It is up to us to utilise and grasp the opportunity to good effect”.
China is a market that we cannot ignore, he said, adding that “business plays an important role in giving life and meaning to the South Africa and China relationship”.
“We want a win-win solution on everything that we do, but it is the interest of our people that we must advance,” he said.