Being positive is the key to our success

17 November 2011 Steven Braudo, CEO of Liberty Retail SA
Steven Braudo, CEO of Liberty Retail SA

Steven Braudo, CEO of Liberty Retail SA

In South Africa we are grappling with a major shortage in savings. Savings affect us not only on a personal level but also at a macro-economic level as currently we are unable to fund our own fixed investment relying instead on inflows from foreigners.

National Treasury has stated that in order to grow our economy by 6% a year, we need to increase our savings rate to 31% of gross domestic product (GDP) to fund the fixed investment required to meet that growth rate.

The reality is that South Africa sits with a savings rate of just 16%. We could argue that poverty prevents us from saving, however, that argument is negated when we look at other emerging economies like India and Botswana that have a savings rate of 23% and 38% respectively.

Our attitude to savings is possibly linked to our belief in our future. A study soon to be published by Professor Steven Burgess who is the Director of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Business School, suggests that South Africans are the most cynical people in the world. This must have an impact on our desire to save. How do you save when you feel cynical about the future and whether or not you have a future at all?

I have never met a successful person that is not positive, being positive and having dreams and goals is what drives success. In order to be successful as a country we need to shake off our cynicism and start to appreciate the good things around us and celebrate what we have.

As an investment house, we are certainly finding that many of our clients are scared of investing in South Africa as they focus on the challenges we face such as high levels of unemployment, increasingly violent strikes and discussions around nationalisation.

However, we believe that this is a very myopic view and in order to give our clients some global context to South Africa’s challenges we invited political analysts to address some of their financial advisers. What became clear from these conversations is that overall we are very fortunate to live and invest in this country.

In August, we saw London burning as youths took to the streets; Europe is collapsing under the weight of its debts with several countries effectively in default; the US had to increase their debt ceiling by a further $2.5 trillion and the unemployment figures keep rising. The FTSE 100 has fallen to the same levels it was in 1997, while JSE All-Share Index has increased by 17% per annum since 1997.

In South Africa we have a very stable banking system and our national debt levels are amongst the lowest in the world thanks to prudent financial management by a government that staved off more populist demands so that we did not share the fate of Greece.

We are weathering the stormy seas with inflation under control and low interest rates, but not so low that savers are realising negative interest rates. We are a resource rich country that will benefit from the rise of the emerging markets.

The grass is certainly no greener on the other side.

Rather than being cynical we need to be writing and talking about what is good about our country and even on a personal level to be thankful for what we have rather than focus only what we do not have. We need more stories about the good that people are doing on the ground through charity work and social programmes rather than sowing the seeds of division. We need to highlight the heroes among us, for there are many.

To quote Jonathan Jansen in his article My South Africa: “My South Africa is the working-class man who called from the airport to return my wallet without a cent missing. It is the white woman who put all three of her domestic worker's children through the same school that her own child attended. It is the politician in one of our rural provinces, Mpumalanga, who returned his salary to the government as a statement that standing with the poor had to be more than just a few words. It is the teacher who worked after school hours every day during the public sector strike to ensure her children did not miss out on learning”.

If we can develop a more positive attitude as citizens and investors we will see our country moving forward. However, if we continue to believe in our cynical views, those views will become self-fulfilling.

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