Cape Town — The annual South African Investment Conference kicks off at the Sandton Convention Centre on November 5-7 under the theme "Accelerating Growth by Building Partnerships". But what awaits investors and those in government is deeper than the discussion around the economy and investment.
In an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa activist lawyers, civil society and community organisations have urged the president to consider "responsible investment only" in light of growing concerns of the environmental impact of among others, coal mining, that is leading to the displacement of people, the lack of drinking water and pollution. "For far too long, coal companies have been allowed to pollute water resources, destroy people's health, agricultural livelihoods and any chance for future generations to live on the land and enjoy fresh, clean air and water and health" said Thomas Mnguni from GroundWork, one of the organisations making the call.
According to Greenpeace, Mpumalanga Province has been declared the highest polluted area in the world because of its twelve coal-fired power plants and the country's weak emission standards. Bafana Hltashwayo, of the Middleburg Environmental Justice Network said his organisation is "concerned about the drive for investment in South Africa which fails to acknowledge the impacts on the health of our environment and ultimately the health and food security of our people".
Activists have said that "investments should involve clear commitments to ensuring that proper due diligence is conducted on the impacts of coal mining, coal infrastructure and other mining activities so that environmental, social and corporate governance issues and impacts are properly investigated and addressed. Investment to stimulate and develop our economy must be environmentally rational and socially acceptable".
Among key challenges facing the country is a high unemployment rate which stands at 29,1%, the highest its been in 12 years. Activists say the conference is important as many South Africans are "unable to find dignified work to support their households and realise their potential".
President Cyril Ramaphosa has bold ambitions to raise over U.S.$ 81billion (R 1.2 trillion) in new domestic and intentional investment over the next five years.
The inaugural investment conference, which was held In October 2018, resulted in international and local investors pledging over U.S.$ 20 billion (R300 billion) worth of investment commitments in various sectors - among them - mining, forestry, manufacturing, telecommunications, transport and energy.
Meanwhile there is also growing concern among South Africans at the reemergence of fracking in the Karoo region which has the potential to harm the groundwater in that arid region and bring further harm to the environment.
The conference will be preceded by a series of networking events on Tuesday November 5, 2019.
On Wednesday, November 06, 2019, President Ramaphosa will officially open and lead the conference which will feature, among others, focused sector specific discussions around the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Mining, Start-ups and SMEs, Manufacturing, Tourism, film, arts, sports and agro processing.
On Thursday, November 07, 2019, the president will attend the Business Showcase, an entrepreneurship, small business growth and innovation showcase to be held at the University of Johannesburg's Soweto Campus.