NEARLY half of South African business leaders say they are delaying making important decisions about the future because of uncertainty about the country’s political direction, according to a survey from global consultancy Grant Thornton.

About a quarter of companies surveyed during the fourth quarter of last year also said they were seriously considering investing offshore in a country seen as more stable, the business consultancy said.

"Over and above post-recessional blows, nationwide strikes and instability in our mining sector, additional issues — in particular political insecurity, regulatory concerns and public policy issues — are adding further unnecessary pressure to the stability of South Africa’s business environment," Grant Thornton said in a statement.

The survey’s results suggest efforts made by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to reassure business have failed to dispel concern in the private sector about crime and corruption, skills availability and poor government service delivery.

South African companies are hoarding more than R530bn in cash and low-yielding instruments because of their reluctance to invest, according to estimates last year from Nedgroup Investments.

Deepak Nagar, national chairman of Grant Thornton South Africa, said constraints identified in the survey — crime, skills and service delivery — had been consistent for some time, emphasising just how critical these issues were for local business.

When South African business owners were asked what barriers or constraints were affecting business growth and expansion, a lack of skilled workers (47%) continued to be cited as the key growth constraint, well above the average for the Brics group of emerging economies (36%), the survey showed.

The group includes Brazil, Russia, India and China, with South Africa a recent addition, although this is not widely recognised.

"In line with Brics business leaders, 42% of executives in South Africa agree that overregulation and complex red tape also constrict business growth, and this highlights how stifling regulatory systems and processes affect the day-to-day functions within a company," Mr Nagar said.

However, the survey showed that businesses were as optimistic about prospects for this year as their peers in the rest of the Brics group, with about 38% of companies positive compared with an average of 39% for their peers in the group and a global average of 4%.

South African business confidence was sharply down, however, from 60% in 2010, Grant Thornton said.

"Next year — 2014 — is a national election year for South Africa. Those who successfully formulate feasible solutions to these concerns would certainly take the lead on next year’s electoral battleground," Mr Nagar said.

The Grant Thornton International Business Report provides quarterly tracker insights into the views and expectations of more than 12,000 businesses surveyed across 44 economies.