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19 May 2021
Supporting a generation of job creators - the role of SMMEs in a post-pandemic economy: Archbishop Thabo Makgoba’s 5th Annual Lecture Series

To thrive, South Africa needs to produce generations of job creators who will generate employment for others, not job seekers, said Minister of Small Business Development, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni at Archbishop Thabo Makgoba’s 5th Annual Lecture Series, hosted this month by the University of the Western Cape. 

Minister Ntshavheni was the keynote speaker at the webinar, titled “SMMEs - Economic Saviour Or Second-class To Big Business?”, that examined how information and communication technology can support small businesses, especially those recovering from the pandemic. 

The annual lecture series is a platform for UWC’s Chancellor and the Patron of the Thabo Makgoba Development Trust to reflect on the state of South Africa, with a focus on leadership and integrity. 

In her welcome address, Professor Vivienne Lawack, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UWC, said many small businesses suffered, even with government support, during the pandemic. “The pandemic was not all doom and gloom. Some of the positives include the digital and technological innovations that have expanded to small businesses.”

Prof Lawack highlighted the work being done by UWC’s Zone Learning incubation space. She said the Small Business Clinic, in collaboration with the Faculty of Economic and  Management Sciences, and the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic with the Law Faculty, offered students experiential learning opportunities to develop the skills they need to navigate an “uncertain world”. 

She added: “It goes beyond support, it enables our entrepreneurs and small businesses to have the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate a very uncertain world, as well as the 4IR and 5IR, and the changing nature of work.” 

Minister Ntshavheni emphasised the urgent need to support women entrepreneurs in particular, who are often the sole breadwinners providing for their families and communities, she explained. “Government will provide support to women and youth as they will ensure that more people can earn a living without having to rely on a social grant.” 

More also needs to be done to recognise spaza shops as a formal business sector, given that there are about 200 000 countrywide, contributing R20 billion annually to the national economy, she said. Without recognition as a formal business sector, the marginalisation of the spaza shop workforce - predominantly black and often women or youth - will continue.

Selebogo Molefe, executive director of The Hookup Dinner (Thud), a startup movement to support entrepreneurs, said the pandemic has encouraged more people to take initiative. Stokvels have provided a new avenue for entrepreneurial growth. “The culture of entrepreneurship is embedded in this environment, and the currency of trust already exists,” he said. Molefe is also the director of the People’s Fund, an asset-backed crowdfunding platform for businesses that have found a market and are looking to grow their ability to deliver this value to their customers.

Graham Choice, managing director of the Merchandising Supply Chain at TFG, also highlighted the importance of support for SMMEs with various aspects of their business, from HR practices to manufacturing processes. “I have watched nine out of 10 factory startups fail - because of lack of resources and training.”

In conclusion, Professor Shaun Pather, chair of the Department of Information Systems at UWC, noted the various public and private sector efforts already in place to create an enabling policy environment for entrepreneurs. He added: “We need to find better ways to coordinate efforts among the three spheres of government. It’s important that solutions are designed from a community-centric perspective. Innovation is needed to create sustainable entrepreneurial ideas.” 

Watch the lecture series