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Rainbow nation builds slowly

At the latest Meet the Ambassador Breakfast hosted by WA Business News the High Commissioner to South Africa, Ian Wilcock, and High Commissioner to Mauritius, Jeff Scougall, spoke of politics, opportunities and the challenges businesses faced in the two countries. Alison Birrane reports.

 

OVERCOMING the legacies of apartheid in South Africa is crucial to furthering economic development.

High unemployment, slow productivity growth and a massive wealth divide second only to Brazil are the result of a “great bulk” of the South African population once being deliberately excluded from access to education, business and employment opportunities.

Speaking at a WA Business News Meet the Ambassadors breakfast, High Commissioner to South Africa Ian Wilcock said black empowerment in South Africa was an issue that everyone living in South Africa must be conscious of.

“Everybody has to contribute and to ensure that a greater and greater part of the South African population has power, decision-making and resources, Mr Wilcock said.

“It’s not going to be an easy process, but it is essential to the health of South Africa and it is essential for anyone doing business in South Africa.”

Mr Wilcock praised the work of the ANC Government, saying its macro economic management since 1994 democratic elections had been very strong.

“It is not true to say that the ANC Government inherited a strong economy. It was a seriously mismanaged economy in the years leading up to the first democratic elections in 1994, and the manner in which they turned that economy around was responsible, careful economic management,” Mr Wilcock said.

“They made some very difficult decisions in terms of their own major constituency and their own major philosophy. I think the manner in which they’ve managed that transition deserves the highest credit.”

He said that the South African elections of April 2004 would lead to a continuation of current policy.

This was good news for continuing strong economic and diplomatic ties between Australia and South African, he said, and for building on our key exports of mining equipment, motor vehicles, coal and petroleum.

Mr Wilcock said tourism and the car industry were the success stories of the South African economy.

“Something like 16,000 Toyota Corollas are exported from South Africa to Australia every year. It is an industry that has modelled itself somewhat on the Australian auto-industry plan and is now making a real impact on export markets with very high quality product. I think that demonstrates the capabilities of SA workers and industry,” he said.

“Tourism is one of the strong success stories of the SA economy. [It experienced] 11.2 per cent growth last year while the rest of the world, including ourselves, was suffering from SARS and terrorism and Iraq-related problems.”

Itself renowned as a tourist destination, Mauritius was looking to build on its natural advantages in that sector, according to High Commissioner to Mauritius Jeff Scougall, who partnered at the Meet the Ambassadors breakfast with Mr Wilcock.

Mr Scougall said tourism had not been fully explored as a means of revenue for the small island nation, despite sections of land that was once used for the dominant sugar industry having been redeveloped for use in tourism.

“Currently, between 700,000 and 800,000 tourists come to Mauritius every year. The great majority of those come from Europe – France, UK, Germany, Italy – people who want to escape the northern winter,” he said. “I think in the future you’ll see a diversification of the tourism offering.”

Mr Scougall said the business opportunities for Australians in Mauritius involved the privatisation and corporatisation of the public sector

“Mauritius Telecom has France telecom as a big player, but the central water authority, the central electricity board, the waste-water authority and the education sector are all on the cusp of corporatisation and privatisation,” he said.

“They present immediate opportunities for our consulting experience. Over the past decade or so, Australians have been cost competitive on the consulting sector.”

Mr Scougall said the new prime minister of Mauritius, Paul Berenger (inaugurated on September 30), brought new credentials to the role with his internationally oriented approach to politics and free enterprise trade.

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