Kathy Gibson is at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town – It was deeply ironic that representatives from the South African government were conspicuously absent from a World Economic Forum press conference aimed at detailing its economic progress since the national election in May.

Anne Bernstein, who runs the Centre for Development and Enterprise and was the sole panelist at the session, points out that South Africa is currently “in a very difficult situation”.

On the plus side, she points out: “We managed last year to get rid of a very difficult president, without a bullet fired.

“In addition, the president has a long-term strategy and has made progress in key areas.”

Among the progress made are revelations being made at the Zondo Commission and a start of realigning the state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

“We have made progress, and it’s important to acknowledge that fact.”

On the other side of the coin, Bernstein believes President Cyril Ramaphosa has failed to capitalise on a personal election victory “I don’t think he has seized the moment to lead the country out of its difficulties.”

Currently, the economy is effectively stagnant, with an unsound macro-economic picture. “Overall, the path South Africa is on now is not sustainable,” Bernstein says. “We have not made the changes.”

Although there are some changes underway, these are not happening as quickly as we need, she adds.

“And all the issues now are big ones.”

Overall, the last 100 days since the election have disappointed the country, Bernstein says. “The country is in deep trouble; our fiscal situation is looking very bad; and we require stronger leadership.”

While there is no clear economic strategy in the public domain, she says the business community is excited about Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s new action plan.

On the issue of SOEs, Bernstein urges a rethink. “They cannot continue as they are; they have to either cut expenditure or raise revenue. And some may have to die.”

Government also need to change its attitude to the private sector, she says. From that, policy recommendations can flow.

“You need to free up firms from unnecessary regulation that adds obstruction and cost.” This is especially relevant for small companies, she adds.

It’s not all doom and gloom, Bernstein stresses. “There are some positive signals but the president has to get out of the mire.

“He got a massive endorsement for himself in the May election, and he has to take that mantle as president of the whole country.”