SOUTH Africa remains the most attractive country in Africa in which to do business despite serious knocks to investor confidence during the past few months, two separate surveys showed on Wednesday.

This upbeat message is surprising in the face of the unrest which swept through the country’s mining and agricultural sectors, and given investor concerns over the prospect of even more state intervention in the economy.

South Africa moved up a notch to rank 14th out of 27 countries in a global emerging markets opportunity index, and remains the highest rated economy on the African continent, according to research compiled by business services company Grant Thornton.

"Although recent events in the mining sector have hurt our country’s reputation as a destination of choice for foreign direct investment (FDI), there are significant benefits that continue to attract investors," said Deepak Nagar, national chairman of Grant Thornton SA.

Meanwhile, an Africa attractiveness survey carried out by Ernst & Young showed that 41% of more than 500 respondents in 38 countries considered South Africa the top country on the continent, followed by 8% for Morocco and 6% for Nigeria.

That survey has not yet been officially released.

According to Grant Thornton’s emerging market index, Nigeria rocketed by nine places to rank 17th, signalling that South Africa would need to improve its competitive edge in order to maintain its higher ranking in years to come.

"Nigeria is growing in strength day by day — if we continue to have problems internally and the government doesn’t get things right, very soon Nigeria will overtake us," Mr Nagar said.

China ranked first in the emerging market index, followed by India, Russia, and Brazil — South Africa’s four fellow members in the Brics group of emerging economies.

The opportunity index uses data from Grant Thornton’s International Business Report — a global company survey — with research from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations Human Development report.

"We are ahead of the game because we are a unique combination of being a highly developed first world infrastructure and a large emerging market economy," Mr Nagar said. The country’s sophisticated and well-regulated financial system and world-class securities exchange were part of its attraction to global investors, he said.

Ernst & Young’s Africa business centre leader Michael Lalor said that South Africa’s economic fundamentals were sound.

Although the economy was not going to "shoot the lights out" it was stacking up exceptionally well against its peers, he said.

South African businesses surveyed by Grant Thornton were upbeat about the year ahead, with 71% expecting an increase in revenue.

In terms of international expansion, 80% of South African businesses were looking at other parts of Africa for investment while 12% were looking to expand internationally, Grant Thornton said.

Mr Nagar said that according to feedback received by Grant Thornton, the main challenges facing companies in the country were labour issues, followed by excessive red tape and uncertainty over government policy.

Mr Lalor said despite all the positive elements in South Africa, the country was still not realising its potential as a "blue chip" emerging market investment destination.