Deputy Trade Minister Elizabeth Thabethe was impressed by the size of the wholesale marketplace.

The South African government will reopen a showroom at the AmericasMart to smooth the way into the U.S. for entrepreneurs and artisans from the country.

The government shuttered the outpost amid tight budgets during the “economic meltdown” of 2009 but will bring it back next year as a gateway for small businesses to sell their wares to American consumers, said Elizabeth Thabethe, deputy minister of trade and industry, during a visit to Atlanta.

“This is one of the huge markets I’ve ever seen in the world, and it’s growing all the time,” Ms. Thabethe said of the massive wholesale market downtown. 

Before leading South African companies to a gift show in Mississippi, she met with leaders from the South African-American Business Chamber in Atlanta to begin discussions on trade and investment collaboration.

The chamber is already in the process of signing an agreement with the government of Gauteng, the most populous province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, the capital, said Derrick Jackson, the chamber’s executive director.

Ms. Thabethe praised that relationship but said the chamber should go further, working with the embassy in Washington and relevant investment recruitment agencies to help its members seek opportunities throughout the country of 50 million people.

With its advanced banking system, relatively reliable infrastructure, manufacturing capabilities and stable government, South Africa has become a gateway for companies investing in Africa. But if the country is to hit President Jacob Zuma‘s goal of creating 5 million jobs by 2020, companies will have to provide more than services.

“To achieve that, we don’t need only people to set up offices and go; we need them to set up offices and even plants there,” Ms. Thabethe told GlobalAtlanta.

That’s one reason government incentives are heavily weighted toward companies that set up factories that create jobs and train workers. South Africa’s unemployment rate is a staggering 24 percent, with up to half of youths unable to find jobs, according to some estimates. 

But the South African market is a conundrum for some companies, said Trevor Erridge, CEO of Atlanta-based GreenTec Homes, an environmental construction firm that also supplies technologies and advice to boost energy efficiency.

Protectionist barriers often make it hard for companies to import enough volume to test the market before committing to building a factory, said Mr. Erridge, a South African native who has been in Atlanta for 12 years.

Ms. Thabethe assured chamber leaders that the government would do all in its power to facilitate investment, including linking them with the right contacts should they follow through on plans to take a business delegation to the country.

Sandile Tyini, economic counselor at the embassy in Washington, attended the Atlanta meeting and offered his assistance in making connections.

The Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market is being held at the AmericasMart July 13-17. The National Black Arts Festival, which draws artisans from Africa and other parts of the world, started July 12 and runs through the weekend.

For more information on trade and investment opportunities, contact the South African chamber in Atlanta by visiting

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...