Retaining SA’s investment grade status in June was not an end in itself. Earning the reprieve, which required the combined and unprecedented efforts of government, business and labour, came at the end of a particularly trying period for our country. The work in engaging with the ratings agencies reinforced what this nation can achieve when we put our differences aside and pull together.

As I participated in many of the discussions with the ratings agencies, it was good to be reminded of how far we have come as a country since our democracy in 1994. At the same time, it was important to fully recognise the socio-economic challenges that we face, and the need to present and implement credible plans to achieve inclusive growth in the near future. I think team SA did exceptionally well in fairly and honestly articulating both the challenges and the opportunities.

So then, it is crucial for us to realise that in order to keep our investment grade rating we will need to show real progress in delivering initiatives that promote inclusive growth; we will need to demonstrate the continued strength and independence of important public institutions such as the judiciary and Public Protector; and we will need to demonstrate a very tight control on government spending.

These though are not the responsibility of others. All of us, whether in government, business, labour, civil society or as private citizens have a role to play. And it is a responsibility we must recognise as a matter of urgency. Muddling along, allowing standards to drop, not holding people accountable, not implementing strategies that help us grow, not re-examining how we each might be a more constructive citizen, not supporting those public institutions who speak truth to power will place our investment grade in great danger.

At the JSE, we know that our stakeholders rely on us to provide a trusted market place in which entrepreneurs can raise capital and investors can invest. It is important that the JSE market place operates at the highest levels, especially when there are stresses in the local and global environment. Concurrently, we also need to ensure that our market can be used to help fund the inclusive growth initiatives that are so vital for our country. And so, we are focusing both on continuing to invest in our people and our technology to ensure that all the products and services we offer are world class and locally relevant, and also on the SA Inc engagements with critical role players – both in SA and globally – to make certain that the policy issues, which are important for growth, are discussed at the right levels.

In the same way as the JSE has been driving improvements, similarly, a great number of local companies have been investing in making themselves internationally competitive. Individually and as a collective, businesses are working to improve the weakening perception of SA as an investment destination. Operating in an emerging market, corporate leaders are aware of the fact that investors have a choice – they can get returns anywhere else.

It is not viable to wait for the business environment to improve before investing in the future. Now is the time for action – for all of us in the country to work on achieving the growth that will be of benefit to everyone in the economy.

Nicky Newton-King
Chief Executive Officer, JSE

July 2016
Image: Matina Steyn