By: Tebogo Mokwena
The Free State government, which is notorious for its poor support of SMMEs, has been given the red card by small businesses and chambers of commerce for its performance in the previous year. It was particularly noted that the government did not assist enough young entrepreneurs, provide programmes for SMMEs nor maintain public infrastructure already used by SMMEs.
The province’s new premier, Mxolisi Dukwana, delivered his maiden State of the Province Address on Tuesday. He revealed that only 869 enterprises were assisted with financial and nonfinancial support. A total of 472 of them were youth-owned enterprises. While the joint business committee of the Free State Chambers admitted that Dukwana had inherited a province in shambles, it said much more needed to be done for SMMEs.
Spokesperson Motlalepula Mokgachane said that youth unemployment in the province was soaring and young people turned to entrepreneurship to address unemployment. Therefore, it was imperative that the provincial government tripled this number and allocated more funds to youth-owned businesses, Mokgachane said.
Dukwana also announced that the province was working on two pieces of legislation for the purpose of boosting SMMEs in the province. They are the Free State Integrated Local Economic Development and Transformation Bill, and the Free State Gambling, Liquor and Tourism Amendment Bill.
The purpose of the first Bill is to regulate the licensing of businesses, providing for exclusive ownership and operation of certain specified business categories for citizens, as well as regulating foreign ownership of certain business categories including retail. Mokgachane welcomed this Bill and stressed the need for the provincial government to implement it at a municipal level.
“When we engaged with (the Department of Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs) we informed them that they should endeavor to build more infrastructure which can be used by locals to run businesses like salons, car washes, taverns and the like, in competition with businesses owned by foreign nationals, which are flooding our municipalities,” he said.
“Without this Bill, we cannot penetrate into the township economy.” Small business owner Karabo Mohlomi, who runs Bataung Leather Shoes in Welkom, agreed with Mokgachane that more emphasis should be placed on young business owners. He said the National Youth Development Agency only had one office in the province in Bloemfontein and small business owners travelled long distances to get help.
He also criticised the province for not taking care of public infrastructure. “The government should actually fix infrastructures like industrial parks so that more SMMEs can be housed and given an opportunity to grow and access markets,” he said. According to Dukwana, the province was reviewing its Free State Growth and Development Strategy for the coming year. He also said that the government was working on new agreements to invest in the textile, cement and concrete, and dry-powder food manufacturing sectors.