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Why has South Africa's economy stopped growing?

Wilting.

Photograph: Getty Images

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.