The Eastern Cape is a hotbed of business opportunities – whether an election year or not

Liska Muller, image: Supplied.

Liska Muller, image: Supplied.

Published Apr 14, 2024


By Liska Muller

Eight of the most populous countries in the world have their elections taking place this year.

South Africa is one of them – with the election date now confirmed for 29 May 2024. It is a time of significant shifts – both globally and nationally – and the Eastern Cape business sector, which has faced continuous challenges accompanied by political and economic instability, now needs to increase its awareness of the state of the political economy and prepare for potential changes in the business environment. But this is not a bad news statement.

A plethora of opportunities are available for the business sector in the province.

The Eastern Cape hosts the most successful industrial development zones in South Africa, all strategically positioned to trade the world markets. These are The East London Development Zone, The Koega Development Zone and the recently added Wild Coast Special Economic Zone. The world-class manufacturing, agricultural and agro-processing industries have greatly contributed to the recent growth in the Eastern Cape economy and the unmatched beauty, biodiversity and wildlife offer the tourism industry a one-stop shop.

Despite the significant impact of the ongoing national electricity crisis, many years of drought, poor service delivery and the near state of disaster due to the water infrastructure of the city being in disrepair, the province remains a contested space politically. This has both legacy and political reasons but has not stopped the Maritime Chamber of Commerce from being established to support the growing ocean economy, and the new green ammonia, green hydrogen and battery storage sectors showing promise in the Eastern Cape economy. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) such as Isuzu, Mercedes, Volkswagen Ford have also made large investments in new lines and expanded capacity whilst Ford has started discussions to set up a high-speed rail link between Gquberha and Tshwane to deliver ready-made vehicles to ports.

The Eastern Cape has also been earmarked as an emerging market with a growing middle class and a developing affluent consumer base. The province still offers a competitive alternative to the Western Cape and KZN’s north coast for Migrants. Many people are relocating from inland cities because of the Eastern Cape’s excellent schooling, tertiary institutions, and specialist medical facilities. This leads to a higher demand for residential property and the associated infrastructure and services as well as the potential for economic growth.

By staying informed of any potential changes in policy or regulation and being engaged and proactive, this is a premium time for business owners in the Eastern Cape to position themselves to not only navigate any potential challenges but to also take full advantage of the opportunities for growth and investment in the province.

There are emerging opportunities in areas such as renewable energy. Tourism and information technology are also growth areas, whilst the important existing agricultural and industrial regions are likely to continue to play a role in driving economic growth in the coming years. There are also investment and business development opportunities for both local and foreign investors, with the abundance of natural resources, a skilled labour force and strategic geographic location all listed as benefits.

Business owners in the Eastern Cape are strongly positioned to consider diversifying their operations and exploring new markets. For example, agricultural businesses could invest in renewable energy technologies to improve their sustainability and reduce costs. Similarly, manufacturing businesses could expand their operations to serve the growing demand for products and services in the region. The Eastern Cape has the potential to become a hub for manufacturing, logistics, and trade with the right investments and existing businesses would be well served to explore the opportunities available.

Whilst business owners must monitor the political situation closely and engage with local authorities to advocate for policies that support economic growth and development, without proactive engagement, business interests are often overlooked in government and stakeholder decision-making. The Nelson Mandela Bay Chamber of Commerce is working hard to facilitate partnerships with business owners and has implemented many initiatives to restore civic life and municipal functioning. This includes the unavoidable challenge of the service gaps, which could potentially be assisted in closing by urban renewal projects that would go a long way towards the development of transportation infrastructure to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the tourism industry.

There are also opportunities for economic development through the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurship. Business owners can benefit from opportunities for partnerships with local entrepreneurs and supporting initiatives that promote the growth of SMEs. The investment into local businesses and the creation of job opportunities would pay off for businesses that are active in developing the region and being part of creating a thriving economy.

The Eastern Cape is known as ‘the world in one province’ - the province with unmatched potential. Whether an election year or not, the business sector in the province cannot only sustain itself but to grow and thrive.

Liska Muller has 20 years of experience in various contexts, as an Executive Business Coach, in Corporate Strategy, Project Management, Human Capital/ Resource Management, and CSI and has a special interest in Transformation, Cultural Intelligence and Enterprise Development.