Economic policy cannot change with each new government, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel warned yesterday in his latest pitch for a continuation of the conservative fiscal policies put in place a decade ago.
Manuel, primary author of the African National Congress's 1996 Growth, Employment and Redistribution policy, made his plea for continuity in a session of the World Economic Forum on Africa meeting in Cape Town.
Eight government leaders and about 850 business and government delegates from more than 50 countries have gathered at the forum to discuss challenges and opportunities on the world's poorest continent.
"There's no substitute for leadership ... and that leadership needs to go beyond the tenure of any particular government because driving economic change always tends to be longer than the term between one election and the next," Manuel said.
He acknowledged that he was involved in debate about economic policy in South Africa.
"What we need to ensure is that all leaders understand that the commitment to sustainable growth is non-negotiable. The core of economic policy and development must be something that all political leaders sign on to," he said.
Speakers in the session focussing on African growth were divided on whether Africa was in a strong position to grow.
Manuel was amongst those who opted to cite global challenges - particularly to soaring price of food - as an opportunity.
"The global economy is a lousy place right now, but it is in that context that the outlook for Africa is so extraordinarily bright," he said.
Nigerian Austine Ometoruwa, chief executive of the Africa Finance Corporation, headed the pessimistic lobby, saying Africa did not have the capacity to take advantage of the opportunities.
"The fundamentals for growth in Africa are weaker now than ever before," he said, referring to electricity, roads, ports and other infrastructure.
Africa was not short of capital for investment either, it was short of bankable projects, he said.
Millionaire Kenyan businessman Chris Kirubi slammed the mood of negativity he said was dragging Africa down.
"It's all about opportunities. If there is no power, it means there is an opportunity to invest in power," he said.
In a separate session, Industrial Development Corporation chairwoman Wendy Luhabe also took a swipe at African leadership, saying the continent's leaders should share responsibility for the lack of delivery on Western promises of development aid.
"We have some responsibility to look at how promises get implemented.
"Africa has not really followed up on this process and demonstrated the necessary leadership," said Luhabe.