South Africa boasts the most advanced, broad-based economy on the African continent. The investment climate is fortified by stable institutions, an independent judiciary, and a robust legal sector committed to upholding the rule of law; a free press and investigative reporting; a mature financial and services sector; good infrastructure; and experienced local partners.
In dealing with the legacy of apartheid, South African laws, policies, and reforms seek economic transformation to accelerate the participation of and opportunities for historically disadvantaged South Africans. The government views its role as the primary driver of development and aims to promote greater industrialization, often employing tariffs and other trade measures that support domestic industry while negatively impacting foreign trade partners. President Ramaphosa’s October 2020 Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan unveiled the latest domestic support target: the substitution of 20% of imported goods in 42 categories with domestic production within 5 years. Other government initiatives to accelerate transformation include labor laws to achieve proportional racial, gender, and disability representation in workplaces and prescriptive government procurement requirements such as equity stakes and employment thresholds for historically disadvantaged South Africans.
South Africa continued to fight its way back from a “lost decade” in which economic growth stagnated, hovering at zero percent pre-COVID-19, largely due to corruption and economic mismanagement. South Africa suffered a four-quarter technical recession in 2019 and 2020 with economic growth registering only 0.2 percent growth for the entire year of 2019 and contracting 7 percent in 2020. As a result, Moody’s rating agency downgraded South Africa’s sovereign debt to sub-investment grade. S&P and Fitch ratings agencies made their initial sovereign debt downgrades to sub-investment grade earlier.
As the country continues to grapple with these challenges, it implemented one of the strictest economic and social lockdown regimes in the world at a significant cost to its economy. In a 2020 survey of over 2,000 South African businesses conducted by Statistics South Africa (StatsSA), over eight percent of respondents permanently ceased trading, while over 36 percent indicated short-term layoffs. South Africa had a -7 percent rate of GDP growth for the year and the official unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2020 was 32.5 percent. Other challenges include: creating policy certainty; reinforcing regulatory oversight; making state-owned enterprises (SOEs) profitable rather than recipients of government money; weeding out widespread corruption; reducing violent crime; tackling labor unrest; improving basic infrastructure and government service delivery; creating more jobs while reducing the size of the state; and increasing the supply of appropriately-skilled labor.
Despite structural challenges, South Africa remains a destination conducive to U.S. investment as a comparatively low-risk location in Africa, the fastest growing consumer market in the world. Google (US) invested approximately USD 140 million and PepsiCo invested over USD 1 billion in 2020. Ford announced a USD 1.6 billion investment, including the expansion of its Gauteng province manufacturing plant in January 2021.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2020||69 of 175||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2019||84 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2020||60 of 131||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2019||$7.8 Billion||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2019||$6,040||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
South African laws and regulations are generally published in draft form for stakeholder comment. However, foreign stakeholders have expressed concern over the adequacy of notice and the government’s willingness to address comments. Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are generally transparent and consistent with international norms. The DTIC is responsible for business-related regulations. It develops and reviews regulatory systems in the areas of competition, standards, consumer protection, company and intellectual property registration and protections, as well as other subjects in the public interest. It also oversees the work of national and provincial regulatory agencies mandated to assist the DTIC in creating and managing competitive and socially responsible business and consumer regulations. The DTIC publishes a list of Bills and Acts that govern its work at: http://www.theDTIC.gov.za/legislation/legislation-and-business-regulation/?hilite=%27IDZ%27
South Africa’s Consumer Protection Act (2008) reinforces various consumer rights, including right of product choice, right to fair contract terms, and right of product quality. The law’s impact varies by industry, and businesses have adjusted their operations accordingly. A brochure summarizing the Consumer Protection Act can be found at: http://www.theDTIC.gov.za/wp-content/uploads/CP_Brochure.pdf . Similarly, the National Credit Act of 2005 aims to promote a fair and non-discriminatory marketplace for access to consumer credit and for that purpose to provide the general regulation of consumer credit and improves standards of consumer information. A brochure summarizing the National Credit Act can be found at: http://www.theDTIC.gov.za/wp-content/uploads/NCA_Brochure.pdf
International Regulatory Considerations
South Africa is a member of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which commenced trading in January 2021. It is a signatory to the SADC-EAC-COMESA Tripartite FTA and a member of the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU), which has a common external tariff and tariff-free trade between its five members (South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland). South Africa has free trade agreements with the Southern African Development Community (SADC); the Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement (TDCA) between South Africa and the European Union (EU); the EFTA-SACU Free Trade Agreement between SACU and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland; and the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the SADC EPA States (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Eswatini, Lesotho, and Mozambique) and the EU and its Member States. SACU and Mozambique (SACUM) and the United Kington (UK) signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) in September 2019.
South Africa is a member of the WTO. While it notifies some draft technical regulations to the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), it is often after implementation. In November 2017, South Africa ratified the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, implementing many of its commitments, including some Category B notifications. The South African Government is not party to the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement (GPA).
Legal System and Judicial Independence
South Africa has a strong legal system composed of civil law inherited from the Dutch, common law inherited from the British, and African customary law. Generally, South Africa follows English law in criminal and civil procedure, company law, constitutional law, and the law of evidence, but follows Roman-Dutch common law in contract law, law of delict (torts), law of persons, and family law. South African company law regulates corporations, including external companies, non-profit, and for-profit companies (including state-owned enterprises). Funded by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, South Africa has district and magistrate courts across 350 districts and high courts for each of the provinces. Cases from Limpopo and Mpumalanga are heard in Gauteng. The Supreme Court of Appeals hears appeals, and its decisions may only be overruled by the Constitutional Court. South Africa has multiple specialized courts, including the Competition Appeal Court, Electoral Court, Land Claims Court, the Labor and Labor Appeal Courts, and Tax Courts to handle disputes between taxpayers and SARS. Rulings are subject to the same appeals process as other courts.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The February 2019 ratification of the Competition Amendment Bill (CAB) introduced, among other revisions, section 18A that mandates the President create an as-of-yet-unestablished committee comprised of 28 Ministers and officials chosen by the President to evaluate and intervene in a merger or acquisition by a foreign acquiring firm on the basis of protecting national security interests. The law also states that the President must identify and publish in the Gazette, the South African equivalent of the U.S. Federal Register, a list of national security interests including the markets, industries, goods or services, sectors or regions for mergers involving a foreign acquiring firm.
Competition and Antitrust Laws
The Competition Commission, separate from the above committee, is empowered to investigate, control, and evaluate restrictive business practices, abuse of dominant positions, and review mergers to achieve equity and efficiency. Its public website is www.compcom.co.za . The Competition Tribunal has jurisdiction throughout South Africa and adjudicates competition matters in accordance with the CAB. While the Commission is the investigation and enforcement agency, the Tribunal is the adjudicative body, very much like a court.
Expropriation and Compensation
Racially discriminatory property laws and land allocations during the colonial and apartheid periods resulted in highly distorted patterns of land ownership and property distribution in South Africa. Given land reform’s slow and mixed success, the National Assembly (Parliament) passed a motion in February 2018 to investigate amending the constitution (specifically Section 25, the “property clause”) to allow for land expropriation without compensation (EWC). Some politicians, think-tanks, and academics argue that Section 25 already allows for EWC in certain cases, while others insist that amendments are required to implement EWC more broadly. Parliament tasked an ad hoc Constitutional Review Committee composed of parliamentarians from various political parties to report back on whether to amend the constitution to allow EWC, and if so, how it should be done. In December 2018, the National Assembly adopted the committee’s report recommending a constitutional amendment. Following elections in May 2019 the new Parliament created an ad hoc Committee to Initiate and Introduce Legislation to Amend Section 25 of the Constitution. The Committee drafted constitutional amendment language explicitly allowing for EWC and accepted public comments on the draft language through March 2021. Parliament awaits the committee’s submission after granting a series of extensions to complete its work. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds parliamentary majority (267 votes) to pass, as well as the support of six out of the nine provinces in the National Council of Provinces. Because no single political party holds such a majority, a two-third vote can only be achieved with the support of two or more political parties. Academics foresee EWC test cases in the next year primarily targeted at abandoned buildings in urban areas, informal settlements in peri-urban areas, and property with labor tenants in rural areas.
In October 2020, the Government of South Africa also published a draft expropriation bill in its Gazette, which would introduce the EWC concept into its legal system. The application of the draft’s provisions could conflict with South Africa’s commitments to international investors under its remaining investment protection treaties as well as its obligations under customary international law. Submissions closed in February 2021.
Existing expropriation law, including The Expropriation Act of 1975 (Act) and the Expropriation Act Amendment of 1992, entitles the government to expropriate private property for reasons of public necessity or utility. The decision is an administrative one. Compensation should be the fair market value of the property as agreed between the buyer and seller, or determined by the court per Section 25 of the Constitution.
In 2018, the government operationalized the 2014 Property Valuation Act that creates the office of Valuer-General charged with the valuation of property that has been identified for land reform or acquisition or disposal. The Act gives the government the option to expropriate property based on a formulation in the Constitution termed “just and equitable compensation.”
The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 28 of 2002 (MPRDA), enacted in 2004, gave the state ownership of South Africa’s mineral and petroleum resources. It replaced private ownership with a system of licenses controlled by the government and issued by the Department of Mineral Resources. Under the MPRDA, investors who held pre-existing rights were granted the opportunity to apply for licenses, provided they met the licensing criteria, including the achievement of certain B-BBEE objectives. Parliament passed amendment to the MPRDA in 2014 but the President never signed them. In August 2018, the Minister for the Department of Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe, called for the recall of the amendments so that oil and gas could be separated out into a new bill. He also announced the B-BBEE provisions in the new Mining Charter would not apply during exploration but would start once commodities were found and mining commenced. In November 2019, the newly merged Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) published draft regulations to the MPRDA. In December 2019, the DMRE published the Draft Upstream Petroleum Resources Development Bill for public comment. Parliament continues to review this legislation. Oil and gas exploration and production is currently regulated under the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 2002 (MPRDA), but the new Bill will repeal and replace the relevant sections pertaining to upstream petroleum activities in the MPRDA.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
South Africa is a member of the New York Convention of 1958 on the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitration awards as implemented through the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards Act, No. 40 of 1977 . It is not a member of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States or the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The 2015 Promotion of Investment Act removes the option for investor state dispute settlement through international courts typically afforded through bilateral investment treaties (BITs). Instead, investors disputing an action taken by the South African government must request the DTIC to facilitate the resolution by appointing a mediator. A foreign investor may also approach any competent court, independent tribunal, or statutory body within South Africa for the resolution of the dispute. Dispute resolution can be a time-intensive process in South Africa. If the matter is urgent, and the presiding judge agrees, an interim decision can be taken within days while the appeal process can take months or years. If the matter is a dispute of law and is not urgent, it may proceed by application or motion to be solved within months. Where there is a dispute of fact, the matter is referred to trial, which may take several years so there is a growing preference for Alternative Dispute Resolution.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
The Arbitration Act of 1965, which does not distinguish between domestic and international arbitration and is not based on UNCITRAL model law, governs arbitration in South Africa. South African courts retain discretion to hear a dispute over a contract using the law of a foreign jurisdiction. However, the South African court will interpret the contract with the law of the country or jurisdiction provided for in the contract. South Africa recognizes the International Chamber of Commerce, which supervises the resolution of transnational commercial disputes. It applies commercial and bankruptcy laws with consistency and has an independent, objective court system for enforcing property and contractual rights. Alternative Dispute Resolution is increasingly popular in South Africa for many reasons, including the confidentiality which can be imposed on the evidence, case documents, and the judgment. South Africa’s new Companies Act also provides a mechanism for Alternative Dispute Resolution.
South Africa’s bankruptcy regime grants many rights to debtors, including rejection of overly burdensome contracts, avoiding preferential transactions, and the ability to obtain credit during insolvency proceedings. South Africa ranks 68 out of 190 countries for resolving insolvency according to the 2020 World Bank Doing Business report, a drop from its 2019 ranking of 65.