South African President Jacob Zuma sought to repair relations with business leaders, pledging to work more closely with companies that he described as the “backbone” of the economy.
Zuma spoke to more than 140 business leaders and cabinet ministers on Tuesday in Cape Town on ways to improve investor sentiment and stimulate growth in an economy weakened by a fall in metals prices, slowing demand from China and the worst drought in more than a century. Among those at the meeting were Barclays Africa Group Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Maria Ramos and Christo Wiese, chairman of Shoprite Holdings Ltd.
“Failure in communication and cooperation between government and business is not an option,” Zuma, 73, said. “We are turning the corner. The channels of communication must remain open at all times.”
The meeting came almost two months after Zuma shocked investors by appointing a little-known lawmaker as his finance minister. He was forced to backtrack after the nation’s rand and bonds dived and named Pravin Gordhan to the post that he held from 2009 to 2014. The talks, two days ahead of Zuma’s annual state-of-the-nation address, focused on an economy that the central bank and the World Bank expect to expand less than 1 percent this year.
“Our own short-term economic outlook is not inspiring,” Zuma said. “The low economic growth is a cost to business, community and government.”