Multinational Disinvestment from South Africa: A Troubling Trend

Over the past twelve months, South Africa has witnessed a significant withdrawal of multinational corporations (MNCs) from its economy. This trend has raised concerns about the country’s business environment, political stability, and economic growth prospects. In this blog, we will extract and expand on the data, incorporating additional information from various sources to provide a comprehensive analysis.

Recent Disinvestment in South Africa: BNP Paribas and Shell

BNP Paribas: Scaling Back Operations

In a significant move, BNP Paribas, the sixth-largest bank globally, has ceased operating as a bank in South Africa. This decision is part of the bank’s broader strategy to focus on core markets in Europe and Asia. Here are the key points:

  1. Strategic Shift: Since 2022, BNP Paribas has been scaling back its non-core operations across Africa. The goal is to streamline its business and concentrate on regions where it can achieve maximum impact.
  2. Official Withdrawal: The Prudential Authority and the South African Reserve Bank Deputy GovernorNomfundo Tshazibana, officially withdrew BNP Paribas’ ability to conduct business via a branch in South Africa. This change took effect on March 8, 2024.
  3. Credit Provider Ownership: Despite no longer operating as a bank, BNP Paribas still retains ownership of the credit provider RCS.

Shell’s Divestment from Downstream Business

Shell, with a remarkable history of over 120 years of operation in South Africa, has made a significant decision to divest from its downstream business. Here are the details:

  1. Comprehensive Review: Following a thorough review of its downstream and renewables operations across all regions, Shell has confirmed its intention to exit the downstream business in South Africa.
  2. Downstream Business: The downstream business involves activities such as refining, transporting, and selling fuel to customers. Shell currently operates approximately 700 fuel service stations in South Africa.
  3. Brand Preservation: While technically exiting the downstream business, Shell aims to preserve its brand presence during the divestment process. This strategic move reflects the changing landscape of energy markets and Shell’s commitment to adapt.

In summary, both BNP Paribas and Shell’s recent actions highlight the evolving dynamics of international companies in South Africa. As investors reassess their strategies, the country’s economic landscape continues to evolve. Stay tuned for further developments as the business landscape transforms.

Companies that have left or downsized

  • Heineken: In June 2022, the Dutch brewer announced its exit from South Africa, citing a decline in beer sales and a challenging business environment.
  • Tiger Brands: The South African food company sold its majority stake in its Nigerian business, Tiger Branded Products, in October 2022.
  • SABMiller: The British-American brewer sold its stake in South African Breweries to Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2022.
  • Massmart: The South African retailer, owned by Walmart, announced a significant restructuring plan in 2022, which included store closures and job losses.
  • Ford: The American automaker announced its exit from South Africa in 2022, citing a decline in vehicle sales and a challenging business environment.

Reasons for disinvestment

  • Economic uncertainty: South Africa’s economy has faced significant challenges, including a decline in GDP growth, high unemployment, and rising inflation.
  • Political instability: The country has experienced political turmoil, including corruption scandals, leadership changes, and policy uncertainty.
  • Regulatory challenges: MNCs have faced difficulties navigating South Africa’s complex regulatory environment, including issues related to labour laws, trade policies, and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) requirements.
  • Competition from other markets: MNCs have been attracted to other emerging markets, such as those in Southeast Asia and Latin America, which offer more favourable business conditions and growth opportunities.

Impact on South Africa

  • Job losses: The withdrawal of MNCs has resulted in significant job losses, exacerbating South Africa’s high unemployment rate.
  • Economic contraction: The disinvestment has contributed to a decline in foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows, which has negatively impacted South Africa’s economic growth.
  • Reduced competitiveness: The departure of MNCs has reduced competition in various industries, potentially leading to reduced innovation and increased prices.


The disinvestment by multinational corporations from South Africa over the past twelve months is a concerning trend. While the country still offers attractive investment opportunities, the challenges posed by economic uncertainty, political instability, regulatory complexity, and competition from other markets need to be addressed to restore confidence and attract new investment. The South African government, business leaders, and civil society must work together to create a more favourable business environment, promote economic growth, and drive job creation.