Right now, South Africa is not a land of opportunity – but that is not to say that in five years’ time it can’t be, says chief executive officer of Sygnia and one of South Africa’s wealthiest women, Magda Wierzycka.
In a recent interview hosted by Bruce Whitfield, to promote her latest book at the Franschoek Literary Festival, the billionaire businesswoman spoke in length about her past: leaving Poland as a child; the role she played in the leaking of state capture information in 2017; and her thoughts on South Africa as a place to conduct business.
Wierzycka stressed that, for South Africa to change, people need to step up and organise within their communities.
“We’ve got to give up on the government running the country, it is a community who will have to organize and run the country. If that means we pay to fix our own potholes, we will have to.”
Wierzycka said that South Africa is not an investable country because of its high levels of corruption and bribery – adding that her asset management company Sygnia would have been five times bigger if she had “paid the middle man”.
She described a conversation she had with an unnamed individual involved in the investigation into state corruption who said that there is virtually no single government contract where a bribe has not been paid by a corporate.
Despite this, Wierzychka said South Africa is a country worth fighting for, adding that it is not about the politics of the moment but the platforms that can be formed to create a voice loud enough to be heard.
“It was easy in 2017 – the year Gupta-related information was leaked – because no one was speaking. We now have the Zondo Commission and know what is possible in terms of white-collar crime.”
The real challenge still lies ahead, according to Wierzycka, to formulate constructive ideas on how to change the current landscape.
“Ideally you don’t want to live anywhere else, but you also do not want to live with failing water infrastructure; you do not want to live without electricity and you can not have the inequality.”
When asked whether she regretted that her parents left Poland to live in South Africa and not elsewhere, Wierzycka said that she has managed to disrupt things in South Africa ‘in a small little way’ as well as in financial services, “hopefully for the better”.
The Sygnia boss joked: “I always think that if I had been in the United States of America, maybe I could have been Elon Musk.”
“We arrived in a country filled with immigrants and different nationalities and, to be perfectly honest, we were embraced by South Africa. My parents got jobs and I got a bursary for university. There was never a moment we were discriminated against – South Africa became a land of opportunity,” Wierzycka said.
Recent data from New World Wealth and Henley & Partners shows how South Africa continues to lose high net worth individuals (HNWIs) overseas. An HNWI refers to a person with a wealth of $1 million (R15.7 million) or more.
Approximately 4,500 HNWI left South Africa over the past decade. The majority of the individuals left the country for the UK, Australia and the United States.