Former Gauteng premier David Makhura, who resigned from his post this week, believes that he helped achieve much for SMMEs while heading up the province. This includes introducing new legislation and building Special Economic Zones and innovation hubs. Also, various funds were made available to boost small businesses. Makhura, who was premier since 2014, made the remarks during an interview with Vutivi News. He said that while there was good progress for Gauteng-based small businesses between 2014 and 2019, it took a turn for the worst during the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, since then, support had picked up again including a major policy development in the form of the Gauteng Township Economic Development Act, which was signed into law this year. Makhura also said that the province had helped businesses formalise, provided training for township enterprises, and ensured wider access to markets. “During Covid-19, we did not only lose 600,000 jobs but (an estimated) 80 to 200 small businesses collapsed,” he told Vutivi News.
“We have programmes supporting many of them to recover, and (one of these is) the Township Economy (Partnership) Fund which was set up to support innovation, startups as well as small businesses,” Makhura said that the Act was one of the province’s biggest legislative efforts to address the constant issues of a lack of funding and market access.
“What small businesses mostly complain about is access to markets, finance, and infrastructure, as they may not have WiFi, water and energy and sometimes not even a proper building to trade from,” he said. Makhura also said that in an effort to tackle the lack of infrastructure needed for SMMEs to grow, Special Economic Zones, innovation hubs and specialisation schools were built.
To date, there were 14 innovation hubs in the province, and 21 specialisation schools have been built to complement various sectors including Information and Communications Technology, and nuclear energy. “We are now building schools of specialisation to support every sector,” he said. “We took some old abandoned schools, brought industry, took BMW in Soshanguve and converted an old technical school into an automotive school, which is doing very well.”
The province embarked on a reindustrialisation effort by focusing on Special Economic Zones in the Vaal Triangle and in Tshwane, Makhura said. The Tshwane Automotive Special Economic Zone has already been built and plans to build the Vaal Special Economic Zone are underway. Makhura also addressed the question of foreign nationals in the province, who have been targeted by various local community groups and movements.
He expressed concern that there may be criminal elements amongst foreign nationals, who were using foreign national-operated shops in townships and rural areas as fronts for their criminal activities. “There are a lot of businesses operating in our space essentially behind those foreign businesses which are engaged in criminal activities on a large scale,” he said. “We can also read the township space (to detect) people pretending to be running legitimate businesses, but behind these businesses, they are involved in drug and human trafficking, and money laundering activities.
“We often chase the wrong target, while the big issue is undocumented and illegal migrants. I am more concerned about the organised crime that finds its way into the country and townships.” While Makhura may not be leading the province anymore, he has advised local municipalities to move to power microgrids to lessen the impact of load-shedding on small businesses. He said that the burden of SMMEs investing in energy infrastructure on their own was too great for them to bear, and microgrids would go a long way in ensuring that the lights stayed on.