Why has South Africa's economy stopped growing?


The World Bank announced today that they have reduced South Africa’s growth forecast for 2013 from 3.2 per cent to 2.5 per cent.

This follows poor results released earlier in the week which show that GDP growth for the first 3 months of 2013 slowed to 0.9 per cent.

The slowdown has a number of possible causes including the uncertainly caused by recent mine strikes and labour market disputes.

The World Bank said “firms are delaying investment and hiring decisions within the country until there is a rebound in private investment and household spending”.

Last week, the South African Reserve Bank decided to keep interest rates at 5.0 per cent. Their ability to reduce rates is of course limited by rising inflation which is linked to Rand weakness.

The South African Rand has depreciated by 16 per cent against the US dollar since the end of 2012 and reached a four year low of R9.84/US$ earlier this week.

This trend is also reflected in the valuation of local companies. In US dollar terms, the JSE all share index is down 5.7 per cent this year (between 31 Dec 2012 and 29 May 2013). This is alarming as most major worldwide exchanges are up significantly this year in US dollar terms: the MSCI world index is up 11 per cent and the Dow is up 17 per cent.

South Africa has a number of underlying issues that could impact on growth going forward. A recent report from WealthInsight highlighted the following major risks in the country:

  • Unemployment rates in South Africa exceed 24 per cent, which is well above the emerging market average. This is partly due to a relatively high degree of labour market rigidity with trade unions having a strong presence in the country. The apartheid government has also created a large pool of poorly educated people, contributing to widespread skill mismatches.
  • The ANC government’s close relationship with Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, is a concern both from an ethical and economic point of view. It is estimated that over four million Zimbabwean refugees have come into South Africa since the Zimbabwean crisis began in 1999.
  • Government corruption is a growing problem. This is likely to continue as the ANC’s dominance makes it difficult for other political parties to challenge ANC officials.
  • A relatively high crime rate, which deters foreign investors and tourists.
  • The HIV epidemic – it is estimated that 21.5 per cent of the adult population is HIV positive, which equates to over five million people. This places significant strain on South Africa’s long-term prospects, both from a social and economic point of view.
Photograph: Getty Images

Andrew Amoils is a writer for WealthInsight

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Lord Geoffrey Howe dies, age 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.