WITH Chinese and Asian investors on the prowl in Africa, local companies will have only themselves to blame if they fail to realise that the continent is ripe with opportunities, delegates attending a roundtable on investing in Africa heard yesterday.

Cash-flush Chinese state companies are offering generous discounts and incentives to win business, targeting investments in areas like infrastructure, telecommunications and mining to fill the vacuum left by US and European investors who have been forced to focus on home markets as a result of the global recession.

Yesterday, delegates to the roundtable, organised by Nedbank and Duke Corporate Education, agreed that Africa, with its population of nearly 1-billion, was an attractive option, particularly for South African companies that had burnt their fingers venturing further afield in countries such as Australia and the US.

Pick n Pay recently announced it was selling its underperforming Australian supermarket chain, Franklins, to unlisted Metcash Trading for R1,4bn.

"There are interesting opportunities in Africa, and South African companies are beginning to redefine their strategies rather than going into Australia, and are changing their Eurocentric mindset," said Nedbank chief operating officer Graham Dempster, whose bank has a strategic alliance with Nigerian bank Ecobank.

He said SA should take advantage of changing perceptions towards Africa as a result of the success of the World Cup to seek investment opportunities.

"We have changed people's perceptions about SA and Africa, and first-time visitors to the continent have been impressed with what they have seen," Mr Dempster said.

Massmart CEO Grant Pattison said it would be a mistake to take Africa as one market because each country was unique, had its own character, its own problems and opportunities.

"We should not be either Afro- pessimists or Afro-optimists. Let's treat each country as an individual and unique investment opportunity ," Mr Pattison said.

Massmart, which generates about R5bn in turnover annually from its operations outside SA, recently acquired a business in Mozambique and Namibia.

Liberty Life's CEO for Africa, Bernard Katomba, said the continent was open for business but warned companies to treat each market differently.

"Africa is a continent and not a country, and every single country has its own dynamics and realities. For investors to succeed, they have to understand that," he told Business Day.