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Africa’s new Brics: Angola, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia

South African leadership in African markets is over; but it holds a lesson for the continent.

Brazil, Russia, India and China have let South Africa into their common talking club, the so-called Brics. South Africa represents Africa as a whole. Yet its mediocre growth contrasts vividly with the rise of financial markets elsewhere on the continent.

South African banks expanding north of the border expect the proportion of their revenue from the rest of Africa to grow. But not radically, partly because they think banking in South Africa can grow almost as fast as in the rest of Africa – an unlikely prospect.

South Africa’s economy has long been constrained by its inability to lift the majority out of poverty, hampered by inadequate infrastructure, especially electricity and transport. South Africa’s wealthy are now as over-indebted as western consumers. Banks are finally getting round to banking South Africa’s unbanked. But mass-market banking, which in South Africa is still mostly transactional rather than loan-oriented, might not be a game-changer for the country.

There was an interesting cartoon in a Johannesburg business daily recently. It showed a riot policeman rolling out barbed wire in front of a barrier labelled ‘Commodities boom’. It seemed to refer to the supposed damage done to South Africa’s mining sector by overblown talk of mine nationalization and the formation of a National Mining Company.

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