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Minister of Small Business Dialogue on Business, Academia and Government

Minister Lindiwe Zulu: Universities should collaborate with DSBD to strengthen small businesses

“I see universities as academic institutions that contribute positively to a country’s socio-economic and political challenges – and it is the responsibility of the universities to look at the kind of curricula and subjects that you have; that you also introduce a continuous and constant discussion about the history and future of the country.”

So said Minister of Small Business Development Ms Lindiwe Zulu, opening the Inaugural Department of Small Business Development Stakeholder Dialogue at the University of the Western Cape's School of Business and Finance (SBF) on Thursday 12 May 2016.

This was also marked as the day Minister Zulu expressed her desire to form a strong and continued relationship with the SBF to help create a more effective path that would benefit small businesses in the long run.

The Dialogue followed on the minister's speeches during the Department of Small Business Development Budget Vote Debate at the National Assembly Chamber on Wednesday 11 May, and this occasion was an opportunity for dialogue between the ministers and small business representatives and stakeholders.

“This post-budget vote stakeholder session seeks to give you an opportunity to engage with me and my department on issues relating to small business and cooperative development,” Zulu told representatives. “I have no doubt that many of you have decided to embrace this process because you firmly believe that arising from today's engagement will emerge competent, practical programmes that will assist government across all spheres to respond effectively to the challenges that confront small businesses.”

Generally the key objective of the Budget Vote is to outline the department’s priorities and programmes for the 2016/2017 financial year. It presents an opportunity for the department to reflect on the progress made in the past financial year and to map a way forward on future commitments.

Zulu said in the South African context there are many aspects to consider: the economy, politics, social and cultural aspects – and all of them need attention from an academic point of view.

“Part of why we are here today is because we understand the importance of the university in assisting us, looking into that. It's not possible for us as a department to really have effective interventions unless we have very strong research. That’s why we need to work together with universities and Stats SA, for instance. The figures that have been recently produced by Stats SA should be interrogated by universities so that we, in the process of developing our policies, or changing our policies and looking at our strategies, can use that information in order to improve packages that we are preparing in support of small and medium enterprises.

In the context of the University of the Western Cape's history and its role in the liberation struggle she said, “We can't afford to lose the history of this country. Professor Jakes Gerwel, Vice-Chancellor of the University and former director general under President Nelson Mandela's government, once declared the University of Western Cape as the international home of the left. Indeed, this University continues to produce graduates who appreciate their role in the reconstruction and development of our country. Part of what we are doing here today is a continuation of the engagement about reconstruction and development.”

She said she had other concerns as well: the coordination between the three spheres of government, for example.

“Effective programmes need to be developed to really address the needs of small and medium enterprises – and I think institutions like yours should really look at those. Sometimes factors in the international space are overlooked when it comes to their effect on small business. Foreign policy, international relationships are other factors; even within our department it's clear that our focus is at a national level where policy formulation and policy development is the main focus.

“I'm confident that all of us gathered here are inspired by the possibilities and opportunities presented by government's new emphasis on small businesses, and cooperative development will help. I have no doubt that the collective wisdom of the people in this room will empower us to respond appropriately to the many socio-economic challenges that confront our nation. As the ministry, we remain open and receptive to new policy ideas that will help accelerate the formation of new businesses and sustainability of its existing ones.

Better Together: Small businesses, government, universities

Zulu drew attention to the plight of small businesses: “As South Africans, we remain concerned that small businesses have an exceedingly high failure rates and that the majority of the casualties are black- and women-owned businesses. We are confident that these types of engagements will help to reverse this trend through insightful research and analysis. As a department, we are determined to discharge our mandate of leading an integrated approach to the promotion and development of small businesses and cooperatives. However, we remain convinced that in order to achieve this goal, we need partnership with various stakeholders. Because of the varied needs of the small business sector, government's policy intervention will have to take into account this diversity. Part of the challenges noted by the academic and research fraternity is the lack of empirical information on South Africa's SMMEs and properties. This empirical information will be critical if we effectively discharge our mandate to assist, the establishment, growth and sustainability of our SMMEs and cooperatives.”

After her speech Minister Zulu engaged in discussion with key stakeholders from the organised small business sector. Representatives community organisations, small businesses and organisations including, among others Seda, the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce, Department of Economic Development, and SACCI engaged in a lively discussion on topics they would have liked to see addressed in the Budget Speech, how to address unemployment by graduating more SMMEs (including informal businesses) into the mainstream economy, and what role SMMEs and academia can play in growing South Africa’s economy and addressing issues of inequality – and even a face popular on television screens, the actor Sello Maake Ka Ncube came to represent his Foundation at the event that marked the first of many to come.

“We look forward to exchanging ideas and data that will guide our policy interventions,” said Minister Zulu. “I hope we will all draw lessons from you as intellectuals, experts and practitioners on what needs to be done to create conducive regulatory environment for the growth and development of small businesses and cooperatives. It is through these interventions that we'll be able to defeat the tricky challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.”