Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Commonwealth Business Forum Banquet: Keynote address by President Cyril Ramaphosa


Commonwealth Business Forum Banquet: Keynote address by President Cyril Ramaphosa

Commonwealth Business Forum Banquet: Keynote address by President Cyril Ramaphosa
Photo credit: GCIS

London, 17 April 2018

More than 20 years ago, Nelson Mandela asked me to come to attend the Commonwealth Business Forum and today I am overjoyed once again to be here and the privilege and the honour is doubly enhanced because this year we celebrate 100 years since Nelson Mandela’s birth.

He would have been 100 years old this year on the 18th of July. This is a year of great remembrance for us as South Africans as we remember the father of our nation and a global icon.

Just over this past weekend we buried his wife Winnie Mandela. There was a great outpouring of grief and sorrow in our country and indeed in a number of countries as we buried her. But there was also great recognition for the role that she played in the struggle as she was subjected to detention without trial in jail, to banishment, to torture, to separation from her children and her husband just because she was Nelson Mandela’s wife and also because she was a strong leader in her own right.

If there was ever a woman who suffered immensely in our country because of our struggle it was Winnie Mandela. But she was strong enough to say even as they subjected her to great torture and all the suffering she endured as he went to prison:

They think because they have put my husband on an island that he will be forgotten, they are wrong, the harder they try to silence him the louder I will become.

And indeed, she became the loudest advocate for his release and she kept his name alive and this past weekend the whole nation thanked her for the contribution that she made to our struggle.

There are not many countries that have had the great fortune and benefit of having a married couple contribute so much to the future of their country as we did have the fortune of having Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela and we said may her soul rest in peace.

Coming here once again to the Business Forum, for me it is a journey down memory lane, for me it has made me remember Nelson Mandela keenly in the wake what has happened in our struggle.

I was able to share a few memories, this morning, with the Queen as she too fondly remembered Nelson Mandela and gave me a framed letter that he wrote her in 1994 as South Africa was readmitted to the Commonwealth. She and Nelson Mandela had a rather special relationship.

As Heads of Government, we are meeting in London to chart a course towards a common future for the 2.4 billion citizens we collectively represent.

For us, the Commonwealth provides a platform to forge common approaches to matters of global importance, underpinned by a commitment to democracy, human rights, good governance and prosperity for all.

It is also a platform to promote trade, investment and the exchange of skills and knowledge between countries.

As the Commonwealth Business Forum demonstrates, the Commonwealth is also a valuable forum to promote linkages between companies and business organisations from around the world.

When I used to attend the Commonwealth Business Forums then we used to say this was a place where you moved from contact to contract as a business person.

I hope it still has that great alloy to it, that great potential where you are able to do real good business deals.

For I as the President of South Africa I am here to do good business deals to attract investment to South Africa and indeed to Africa our continent.

Most Commonwealth countries have historical trade and investment ties, similar legal systems and forms of government, and a common language of commerce.

This provides advantageous conditions for greater investment and trade across the Commonwealth.

It is our responsibility, as government and business leaders alike, in the interests of shared prosperity and sustainable economic development, to make effective use of these advantages.

Since its return to the Commonwealth in 1994, South Africa has worked together with its fellow members to promote the value, relevance and effectiveness of the association.

We have encouraged businesses in our country to reach out to their Commonwealth counterparts across the globe to forger closer ties and create avenues for greater trade and investment.

It is significant that the majority of Commonwealth members are developing countries, which experience similar social and economic challenges, including poverty, inequality and under-development.

Many of these country face infrastructure shortages, have limited manufacturing capacity and often have poor educational outcomes.

The Commonwealth has a critical role to play in forging common responses to these challenges – in forging a common future.

Through the Commonwealth, we need to develop approaches to some of the most important global developments of our time.

We need to grapple with the impact the fourth industrial revolution is likely to have on our economies – many of which are already vulnerable to external shocks – and our people – many of whom do not have the skills required in a rapidly changing workplace.

The challenges and opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution should feature prominently on the agenda of the Commonwealth.

In responding to the challenges of technological change, we need as the Commonwealth to focus greater attention on the development of our human potential.

Just as the machine becomes ever more capable of performing tasks that only humans could previously undertake, there is an ever greater need for people to expand their knowledge and acquire new skills.

Many Commonwealth countries have young populations, with the potential to significantly increase economic productivity.

The Commonwealth should assist these countries in redesigning their education systems to ensure equitable access to quality education that prepares young people for the new economy.

In working towards a common future, we also need to consider the potential effects – both negative and positive – of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

As both government and business leaders, we need to be having a serious discussion about what this means for the members of the Commonwealth.

What are the risks, and where are the opportunities?

These are questions to which we should seek answers together because that is the way of the Commonwealth.

Our experience on the African continent confirms that the most effective way of addressing challenges of economic growth and social development is through cooperation across borders.

This approach lies at the heart of the efforts to promote greater economic integration across the continent.

Africa achieved a milestone last month, when the continent’s leaders met in Kigali under the auspices of the African Union to agree on the establishment of an African Continental Free Trade Area.

The establishment of the free trade area in Africa will revolutionise economic activity on the continent, enabling the transfer of goods, services, skills and technology, and access to a market of over a billion people.

However, the creation of a free trade area alone it is not enough.

It needs to be accompanied by the development of the infrastructure that is going to carry these goods and generate the power that is going to enable their production.

It needs to be accompanied by investments in universities, schools, hospitals and clinics, communication technology and water reticulation.

For South Africa, continental integration is fundamental to the advancement of our national agenda.

It is only through greater investment and trade between African countries that we will be able to address our own challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

South Africa has entered a new era of confidence and hope.

Our people are working together towards a common future.

After several years of poor growth, limited investment and constrained public finances, the South African economy is starting to show signs of revival.

This is taking place alongside a process of political renewal, which aims to restore the credibility of our public institutions, tackle corruption and wastage and strengthen the capacity of the state.

This week we announced an ambitious investment drive that aims to generate at least $100 billion in new investment over the next five years.

This drive will culminate in an Investment Conference later this year, which will bring together investors both from within South Africa and from other parts of the world.

I have appointed four investment envoys to go right across the world, to go and campaign for investments for our country because once again South Africa is truly open for investment.

We expect that investors from other Commonwealth countries will be prominent among those participating at the conference – and that it will include several of the people attending the Commonwealth Business Forum.

The South African government is working alongside its social partners in business, labour and civil society to build a new and inclusive growth path for South Africa.

We are improving the investment environment by, among other things, ensuring policy certainty and consistency, improving the performance of state owned enterprises and consolidating fiscal debt.

As it embarks on this new era of renewal, South Africa is determined to be a meaningful partner in the regeneration of the African continent.

It is determined to play its part in strengthening the Commonwealth as an instrument of growth, development and good governance.

We are certain that by strengthening trade ties, by significantly increasing the levels of foreign direct investment and by working together to develop our economic capabilities, the citizens of our countries will indeed achieve inclusive and sustained prosperity.

We will indeed build a common future for all our people.

I thank you.


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