The key sectors that keep South Africa’s economic engine running are finance, real estate and business services, general government services, as well as trade, catering and accommodation, and manufacturing.
Brand South Africa reporter
South Africa’s economy was traditionally rooted in the primary sectors – the result of a wealth of mineral resources and favourable agricultural conditions. But recent decades have seen a structural shift in output.
Since the early 1990s, economic growth has been driven mainly by the tertiary sector – which includes wholesale and retail trade, tourism and communications. Now South Africa is moving towards becoming a knowledge-based economy, with a greater focus on technology, e-commerce and financial and other services.
The major sector of the economy is finance, real estate and business services, which contributes around 22% to GDP. Its is followed by general government services at 17%, and then the sector of wholesale, retail and motor trade, catering and accommodation at 15%. Manufacturing is fourth, at 14%.
Sections in this article:
- Wholesale and retail trade
- Finance and business services
- Investment incentives
South Africa has developed an established, diversified manufacturing base that has shown its resilience and potential to compete in the global economy.
The manufacturing sector provides a locus for stimulating the growth of other activities, such as services, and achieving specific outcomes, such as employment creation and economic empowerment. The sector contributed 15.2% to South Africa’s GDP in 2013, making it the third-largest contributor to the nation’s economy.
Manufacturing is dominated by industries such as agro-processing, automotive, chemicals, information and communication technology, electronics, metals, textiles, clothing and footwear.
Underpinning this sector is the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Industrial Policy Action Plan (Ipap), which aims to achieve structural development and to increase competitiveness of South African manufacturing.
South Africa exhibits a wide range of climates – from semi-arid and dry, to sub-tropical. As a result, a variety of crops, livestock and fish are to be found.
This industry spans the processing of freshwater aquaculture and mariculture, exotic and indigenous meats, nuts, herbs and fruit. It also involves the production and export of deciduous fruit; production of wines for the local and export market; confectionary manufacturing and export; and the processing of natural fibres from cotton, hemp, sisal, kenaf and pineapple.
World-class infrastructure, counter-seasonality to Europe, vast biodiversity and marine resources, and competitive input costs make the country a major player on the world’s markets.
In 2013, Trade and Industry minister Rob Davies said the agro-processing sector is worth R49-billion and has created as many as 207 893 jobs in the third quarter of that year. It is also significant in sustaining the environment and growing the economy. He added that since 2008, food processing grew by over 2% more than the manufacturing sector as a whole.
The government’s New Growth Path (NGP) and National Development Plan (NDP) both identified agro-processing as a sector with high growth potential, despite the challenges of imports competition, loss of market and the unstable currency and exchange rate.
The automotive industry is one of South Africa’s most important sectors, with many of the major multinationals using South Africa to source components and assemble vehicles for both the local and international markets.
South Africa’s automotive industry is a global, turbo-charged engine for the manufacture and export of vehicles and components. The sector accounts for about 12% of South Africa’s manufacturing exports, making it a crucial cog in the economy.
The automotive and components industry is perfectly placed for investment opportunities. Vehicle manufacturers such as BMW, Ford, Volkswagen, Daimler-Chrysler and Toyota have production plants in the country, while component manufacturers (Arvin Exhaust, Bloxwitch, Corning, Senior Flexonics) have established production bases here.
The industry is largely located in two provinces, the Eastern Cape (coastal) and Gauteng (inland). Companies with production plants in South Africa are placed to take advantage of the low production costs, coupled with access to new markets as a result of trade agreements with the European Union and the Southern African Development Community free trade area. Opportunities also lie in the production of materials (automotive steel and components).
In 2013, the DTI introduced the Automotive Production Development Programme (APDP) with the intention of increasing the volume of cars manufactured in South Africa to 1.2-million annually by 2020 as well as to diversify the automotive components chain. The APDP is a migration from the Motor Industry Development Programme, which has affected second and third tier suppliers, and original equipment manufacturers.
The National Association of Automobile Manufacturers (NAAM) said production, particularly those of light motor vehicles, will rise from 2014 onward because of the APDP.
According to NAAM, average industry employment figures rose by 441 jobs in the third quarter of 2013, therefore bringing the total to 30 344 positions within the industry. New car sales also rose to 125 189 units, more than 6.4% more than in the corresponding quarter in 2012.
The local industry’s largest export market remains Europe, despite the effects the recession is having on the Euro zone. In 2012, 66 929 vehicles were sold to Europe, 6 000 more than is sold in Africa. However, the recession resulted in a 12.7% drop to 58 403 vehicles.
The chemicals industry has been shaped by the political and regulatory environment that created a philosophy of isolationism and protectionism during the apartheid years. This tended to foster an inward approach and a focus on import replacement in the local market. It also encouraged the building of small-scale plants with capacities geared to local demand, which tended to be uneconomic.
Through isolation of the industry from international competition and high raw material prices as a result of import tariffs, locally processed goods have generally been less than competitive in export markets. Now that South Africa is once more fully part of the global community, South African chemical companies are focusing on the need to be internationally competitive and the industry is reshaping itself accordingly.
The South African chemicals sector has two noticeable characteristics. Firstly, while its upstream sector is concentrated and well developed, the downstream sector – although diverse – remains underdeveloped. Secondly, the synthetic coal and natural gas-based liquid fuels and petrochemicals industry is prominent, with South Africa being the world leader in coal-based synthesis and gas-to-liquids technologies.
The industry is the largest of its kind in Africa. It is highly complex and widely diversified, with end products often being composed of a number of chemicals that have been combined in some way.
The primary and secondary sectors are dominated by Sasol (through Sasol Chemical Industries and Sasol Polymers), AECI and Dow Sentrachem. These companies have recently diversified and expanded their interests in tertiary products, especially those with export potential.
In 2013, the sector was South Africa’s fourth-largest employer with 200 000 jobs and contributed about 5% to the country’s GDP.
The Global Business Report says Africa is quickly becoming a significant chemical consumer and that if South Africa increases trade with its neighbours, the industry could be ignited.
Information and communications technology
The South African information and communication technologies (ICT) sector is the largest and most advanced in Africa, and is characterised by technology leadership, particularly in the field of mobile software and electronic banking services.
With a network that is 99.9% digital and includes the latest in wireless and satellite communication, the country has the most developed telecoms network in Africa.
South African companies are global leaders in pre-payment, revenue management and fraud prevention systems, and in the manufacture of set-top boxes, all of which are exported successfully to the rest of the world.
Export growth and internationalisation of South African companies is supported by the Department of Trade and Industry via South African Electrotechnical Export Council (SAEEC).
According to the SAECC, the South African ICT market is estimated at US$ 42.6-billion (R468.4-billion) in 2013 with IT accounting for US$ 15.08-billion (R164-billion) and communications US$ 27.18-billion (R297.4-billion). The sector contributes approximately 8.2% to South Africa’s GDP.
Several international corporates, recognised as leaders in the IT sector, operate subsidiaries from South Africa, including IBM, Unisys, Microsoft, Intel, Systems Application Protocol (SAP), Dell, Novell and Compaq.
Testing and piloting systems and applications are growing businesses in South Africa, with the diversity of the local market, first world know-how in business and a developing country environment making it an ideal test lab for new innovations.
Export growth and internationalisation of South African companies is supported by the Department of Trade and Industry via the Electrotechnical Export Council (SAEEC).
The electronics industry has repeatedly demonstrated world-class innovation and production. The industry is characterised by a handful of generalist companies with strong capabilities in professional electronics, while small to medium companies specialise in security systems and electricity pre-payment meters.
Investment opportunities lie in the development of access control systems and security equipment, automotive electronic subsystems, systems and software development in the banking and financial services sector, silicon processing for fibre optics, integrated circuits and solar cells. There are also significant opportunities for the export of hardware and associated services, as well as software and peripherals.
South Africa’s large, well-developed metals industry, with vast natural resources and a supportive infrastructure, represents roughly a third of all South Africa’s manufacturing.
It comprises basic iron ore and steel, basic non-ferrous metals and metal products. The basic industries involve the manufacture of primary iron and steel products from smelting to semi-finished stages.
Primary steel products and semi-finished products include billets, blooms, slabs, forgings, reinforcing bars, railway track material, wire rod, seamless tubes and plates.
The primary steel industry is a significant contributor to the economy and earns considerable amounts of valuable foreign exchange.
ArcelorMittal SA, formerly Iscor and now part of global steel company ArcelorMittal, is South Africa’s largest steel producer. Other industry players are Scaw Metals, Cape Gate, Columbus Stainless Steel, Highveld Steel and Vanadium and Cisco.
South Africa ranks 21st among the crude-steel producing countries in the world – producing in the region of 1% of the world’s crude steel. South Africa is also the largest steel producer in Africa: it is responsible for more than half of the total crude steel production of the continent. South Africa’s steel production bucked the global trend in 2013, increasing by 4.1%, from 6.9-millioon tonnes a year to 7.2-million tonnes. Of that amount, the South African Iron and Steel Institute stated that 1.74-million tonnes of primary steel products were exported.
The international and local steel industry has changed dramatically over the past two years. Several steel companies have fallen away and protectionism has increased.
To survive in these harsh conditions, the South African primary steel industry has taken major steps to become more efficient and competitive. Many local steelworks have engaged in restructuring and productivity improvements.
South Africa’s non-ferrous metal industries comprise aluminium and other metals (including copper, brass, lead, zinc and tin). Aluminium is the largest sector but, as South Africa has no commercially exploitable deposits, feedstock is imported. South Africa is ranked eighth in world production of aluminium. Key players include Billiton (with smelters in Richards Bay) and Hulett Aluminium.
Other non-ferrous metals have a lesser role, but are still important for exports and foreign exchange earnings. Although the country’s copper, brass and bronze industries have declined, it is hoped that new mining and reclamation technologies will allow the exploitation of previously unviable deposits.
Textiles, clothing and footwear
The South African textile and clothing industry aims to use all the natural, human and technological resources at its disposal to make it the preferred international supplier. Though the textile and apparel industry is small, it is well placed to make this vision a reality.
In 2013, textiles and clothing accounted for about 14% of manufacturing employment and represented South Africa’s second largest source of tax revenue. The textile industry is the most cost-effective way of creating jobs.
Owing to technological developments, local textile production has evolved into a capital-intensive industry, producing synthetic fibres in ever-increasing proportions. The apparel industry has also undergone significant technological change and has benefited from the country’s sophisticated transport and communications infrastructure.
The South African market demand increasingly reflects the sophistication of First World markets and the local clothing and textile industry has grown accordingly to offer the full range of services – from natural and synthetic fibre production to non-wovens, spinning, weaving, tufting, knitting, dyeing and finishing.
With the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) set to be renewed in 2015, the textile industry is set to benefit even more than before. When US Congress first approved Agoa in 2000, textile manufacturers were expected to benefit the most. Though it is not the case 14 years on – the motor industry is the greatest beneficiary – textile exports to the US increased by 62%.
In spite of this, the industry remains vulnerable to cheap imports. China’s inclusion in the World Trade Organisation in 2001 rocked local manufacturers as South African businesses began importing cheaper textiles and clothing from the Asian country. Additionally, a relatively strong rand from 2003 onwards led to the industry’s decline.
As a result, the number of jobs decreased. According to Enrique Crouse, chief executive of Prilla 2000, a textile mill in Pietermaritzburg, 181 000 people were employed in the local textile industry in 2002. In 2013 there were only 80 000. However, he said the government’s rescue plan for the textile and clothing industry, which was outlined in 2009, has done exceptionally well to recover the industry in recent years and is in the best position it has been in a last decade.
Despite this setback, Paul Geldenhuys, general manager of Mozimax, a textile company in Tongaat, is certain the local industry is on the mend. He said that though many economists say the weaker rand negatively affects the economy, it can also make imports more expensive, which would inevitably force suppliers to buy from local manufacturers.
The country is renowned for an abundance of mineral resources, accounting for a significant proportion of both world production and reserves, and South African mining companies dominate many sectors in the global industry. Mining and quarrying contributed 4.9% to GDP in 2013.
South Africa is the world’s biggest producer of gold and platinum and one of the leading producers of base metals and coal.
The country’s diamond industry is the fourth-largest in the world, with only Botswana, Canada and Russia producing more diamonds each year.
Although well over a century old, South Africa’s mining industry is far from fully tapped. The country is a treasure trove, with mineral deposits only matched by some countries of the former Soviet Union.
South Africa – while holding the world’s largest reserves of gold, platinum-group metals and manganese ore – has considerable potential for the discovery of other world-class deposits in areas yet to be exhaustively explored.
The country produces 10% of the world’s gold, and has 40% of the world’s known resources. It is estimated that 36 000 tons of undeveloped resources – about one third of the world’s unmined gold – still remains.
The sector spans the full spectrum of the five major mineral categories – namely precious metals and minerals, energy minerals, non-ferrous metals and minerals, ferrous minerals and industrial minerals.
Apart from its prolific mineral reserves, South Africa’s strengths include a high level of technical and production expertise, and comprehensive research and development activities.
The country has world-scale primary processing facilities covering carbon steel, stainless steel and aluminium – in addition to gold and platinum.
With the growth of South Africa’s secondary and tertiary industries, as well as a decline in gold production, mining’s contribution to South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) has declined over the past few decades. However, this may be offset by an increase in the downstream or beneficiated minerals industry, which the government has targeted as a growth sector.
Lucrative opportunities exist for downstream processing and adding value locally to iron, carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminium, platinum group metals and gold.
A wide range of materials is available for jewellery – including gold, platinum, diamonds, tiger’s eye and a variety of other semi-precious stones.
The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act of 2002 opened the doors to meaningful participation of black people in the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources. The Act enshrines equal access to mineral resources, irrespective of race, gender or creed.
South Africa’s mining industry is continually expanding and adapting to changing local and international world conditions, and remains a cornerstone of the economy, making a significant contribution to economic activity, job creation and foreign exchange earnings.
Agriculture as a percentage of GDP has decreased over past four decades. This implies that the economy has gradually become more advanced. In 1960, agriculture constituted 9,1% of the total economy; this has decreased to only 2,2% in 2013. Though this decrease would seem to be a negative trend from a farmer’s perspective, it signals that the South African economy is reaching maturity as the secondary and tertiary sectors become more important.
Maize is most widely grown – followed by wheat, oats, sugar cane and sunflowers. The government has been developing programmes to promote small-scale farming and to boost job creation. Citrus and deciduous fruits are exported, as are locally produced wines and flowers.
South Africa has both well-developed commercial farming and more subsistence-based production in the deep rural areas.
Covering 1.2-million square kilometres of land, South Africa is one-eighth the size of the United States and has seven climatic regions, from Mediterranean to subtropical to semi-desert.
This biodiversity, together with a coastline 3 000 kilometres long and served by seven commercial ports, favours the cultivation of a wide range of marine and agricultural products – from deciduous, citrus and subtropical fruit, to grain, wool, cut flowers, livestock and game.
Agricultural activities range from intensive crop production and mixed farming in winter rainfall and high summer rainfall areas, to cattle ranching in the bushveld and sheep farming in the arid regions.
While 13% of South Africa’s land can be used for crop production, only 22% of this is high-potential arable land. The greatest limitation is the availability of water. Rainfall is distributed unevenly across the country, with some areas prone to drought. Almost 50% of water is used for agriculture, with about 1.3-million hectares under irrigation.
South Africa is not only self-sufficient in virtually all major agricultural products, but is also a net food exporter. Farming remains vitally important to the economy and the development of the southern African region.
The communications sector has been one of the fastest growing of the South African economy, reflecting the rapid expansion of mobile telephony across the country.
Telkom, a listed company in which the government is the biggest shareholder, was until recently the only licensed provider of public fixed-line telecommunications services. Telkom is also a key player in an optical fibre undersea cable project that will cater for Africa’s growing telecommunications needs for the next 25 years.
In late 2006, the government awarded Neotel a licence to become the second fixed-line operator. A court ruling in 2009 had added impetus, allowing value added network service providers – of which there are about 300 in South Africa – to build their own networks. There is also a second transatlantic cable, Seacom.
South Africa’s cellular phone market has grown phenomenally since its inception in 1994. It is also the fourth fastest growing Groupe Speciale Mobile (GSM) market in the world.
Cellular services are provided by three licensed operators: Vodacom, MTN and Cell C.
The country has more than 33 million mobile phones. The introduction of number portability in November 2006 has increased the flexibility of the mobile service industry and is expected to bolster competition between various providers.
South Africa is also the largest Internet market in South Africa, with an estimated 4.6- to 5.4-million users. There are still around 700 000 dial-up users, while there were 1.35-million broadband connections at the end of 2008. Research firm World Wide Worx predicts that South Africa will show steady Internet user growth over the next few years, reaching 8.5-million Internet users in 2013 and 9-million users in 2014.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Information Industry Competitiveness Index 2008, South Africa ranks 37th out of 66 countries reviewed, owing to well-established business and legal sectors.
Tourism is regarded as a modern-day engine of growth and is one of the largest industries globally. One of the advantages of tourism as an export earner is that it is less volatile than the commodity sector.
Tourism has been earmarked as a growth industry in South Africa, as the industry is ideally suited to adding value to the country’s many natural, cultural and other resources.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism directly and indirectly constitutes approximately 7% of GDP and employment in South Africa.
Wholesale and retail trade
Statistics South Africa produces a monthly survey of the retail trade industry, covering various retail trade enterprises.
The survey generally covers retailers in specialised food, beverages, tobacco, pharmaceutical and medical goods, cosmetics and toiletries, general dealers, textiles, clothing, footwear, leather goods, household furniture, appliances and equipment, hardware, paint and glass, as well as various other dealers in miscellaneous goods.
Among the major retailing groups are Edcon, Massmart, Pick n Pay, Shoprite Checkers, Mr Price Group, Foschini Group, JD Group and Ellerines Holdings.
Finance and business services
South Africa, despite its “emerging market” status, has a sophisticated financial sector. With the country’s reintegration into the global sphere in 1994, corporate governance rules, disclosure, transparency and accountability have become an integral part of doing business in South Africa.
Consequently, regulations governing the financial sector, and particularly risk management, have undergone considerable refinement to align them to internationally recognised standards and best practice.
The financial, real estate and business service sector, together with other services sectors, has proved to be a pillar of the country’s economic growth over the years.
The sector boasts dozens of domestic and foreign institutions providing a full range of services – commercial, retail and merchant banking, mortgage lending, insurance and investment.
South Africa’s banking sector compares favourably with those of industrialised countries. Foreign banks are well represented and electronic banking facilities are extensive, with a nationwide network of automatic teller machines (ATMs). Internet banking is also available.
The Financial Services Board oversees the regulation of financial markets and institutions – including insurers, fund managers and broking operations, but excluding banks, which fall under the South African Reserve Bank.
The South African banking system is well developed and effectively regulated, comprising a central bank, a few large, financially strong banks and investment institutions, and a number of smaller banks.
Many foreign banks and investment institutions have set up operations in South Africa over the past decade. The Banks Act is based on similar legislation in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.
Although no formal agreements have established a consistent international position in the area of banking regulation, there have been amendments to exchange controls as well as financial market legislation, making South Africa an attractive investment prospect.
The National Payment System Act of 1998 was introduced to bring the South African financial settlement system in line with international practice. The Act confers greater powers and duties on the SA Reserve Bank in respect of providing clearing and settlement facilities.
The Payment Association of South Africa, under the supervision of the Reserve Bank, has facilitated the introduction of payment clearing house agreements. It has also introduced agreements pertaining to settlement, clearing and netting agreements, and rules to create certainty and reduce systemic and other risks in inter-bank settlement. These developments have brought South Africa in line with international inter-bank settlement practice.
Investment and merchant banking remains the most competitive front in the industry, while the country’s “big four” banks – Absa, Standard Bank, Nedbank and FNB – continue to consolidate their grip on the retail market.
An office headed by the Registrar of Banks, operating as part of the Reserve Bank, is responsible for registering institutions as banks or mutual banks, and for enforcing the legislation.
The registrar acts with relative autonomy in executing his duties, but has to report annually on his activities to the Minister of Finance, who in turn has to table this report in Parliament. The extent of supervision entails the establishment of certain capital and liquidity requirements and the continuous monitoring of institutions’ adherence to legal requirements and other guidelines.
The performance of an individual institution is also monitored against developments in the relevant sector as a whole. If deemed necessary, inspectors can be appointed to inspect the affairs of any bank, or any institution or person not registered as a bank if there is reason to suspect that such an institution or person is carrying on the business of banking.
Financial Services Board
The Financial Services Board is an independent institution established by statute to oversee South Africa’s non-banking financial services industry.
The board’s mission is to promote sound and efficient financial institutions and services, together with mechanisms for investor protection.
Major financial institutions regulated by the board include the country’s exchanges and insurers, both short term-and long-term.
South Africa offers various attractive investment incentives, targeted at specific sectors or types of business activities. These are:
The Enterprise Investment Programme manufacturing programme
The EIP (manufacturing) is a cash grant for locally based manufacturers who wish to establish a new production facility, expand an existing facility, or upgrade an existing facility in manufacturing industries.
The Enterprise Investment Programme tourism support programme
The EIP (tourism) is an investment incentive grant, payable over a period of two to three years, to support the development of tourism enterprises, and in so doing, stimulate job creation and encourage the geographical spread of tourism investment throughout South Africa.
Tourism-related activities supported by the grant include the following:
- Accommodation services
- Passenger transport services
- Tour operators
- Cultural services
- Recreational and entertainment services
Foreign investment grant
This grant seeks to compensate qualifying foreign investors for the cost of moving qualifying new machinery and equipment from abroad to South Africa.
The critical infrastructure fund is a cash grant for projects designed to improve critical infrastructure in South Africa, including the following:
- Transport systems – road and rail systems
- Electricity transmission and distribution systems – power flow and regulation systems
- Telecommunications networks – cabling and signal transmission systems
- Sewage systems – network and purification
- Waste storage, disposal and treatment systems
- Fuel supply systems – piping for liquid, gas, and solid fuel conveyer transportation
Industrial development zones
IDZs are purpose-built industrial estates linked to international ports that leverage fixed direct investments in value-added and export-oriented manufacturing industries.
These zones provide the following benefits:
- Quality infrastructure
- Expedited customs procedures
- Duty-free operating environments
The location film and television production incentive
This incentive programme consists of a Large Budget Film and Television Production Rebate Scheme, whereby foreign-owned qualifying producers are rebated a maximum of R10-million for the production of large budget films and television productions.
The South African Film and Television Production and Co-Production Incentive Financial assistance to South African feature films, tele-movies, television drama series, documentaries andanimation. The objective is to contribute to the local film industry. Production budgets are required to be more than R10-million, with the rebate being 35%, capped at R10-million.
Export marketing and investment assistance
The EMIA scheme partially compensates exporters in respect of activities aimed at developing export markets for South African products and services, and to recruit new FDI into South Africa.
The scheme provides assistance in the form of:
- Air travel expenses
- Subsistence allowances
- Freight-forwarding of display materials
- Exhibition space and booth rental costs.
The business process outsourcing and offshoring investment incentive
The BPO&O investment incentive comprises an investment grant, and a training support grant, towards costs of company-specific training.
The incentive is offered to local and foreign investors establishing projects that aim primarily to serve offshore clients.
Automotive production and development programme
This programme has four key elements:
- Tariff reduction freeze from 2013 until 2020
- Local assembly allowance
- Production incentives
- Automotive investment allowance
- Department of Trade and Industry
- Southern African Development Community
- Reserve Bank
- National Treasury
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