SMMES in Sedibeng in Gauteng have welcomed a recent imbizo to the area, but are clear that a two-day visit will not address all their needs and struggles as a business community. Vutivi News spoke to businesses in the area following a two-day presidential imbizo in Sharpeville last week. The purpose of the imbizo was to reiterate the government’s commitment to combat poverty in the district and explain how this would be done by unlocking the region’s economic potential.
This includes the proposed Vaal River Special Economic Zone (SEZ), which was announced by Gauteng Premier David Makhura last year at the Sedibeng SMME Conference. President Cyril Ramaphosa told businesses that the biggest challenge facing the Vaal Triangle was unemployment. The Vaal SEZ is expected to create around 170,000 jobs.
But for Themba Mkhiza, who owns Ogcwabe Holdings (PTY) Ltd, and Karabo Letsele of Atlehang Printworks, there are other concerns. They have to do with the centralisation of business opportunities and the lack of access to information. Mkhiza runs a catering, decor and construction business which operate in Lakeside, Orange Farm and De Deur. He believes that the only opportunities that are available for businesspeople in Sedibeng are reserved for those who are politically connected.
“Most of the construction projects in the region are awarded by political affiliation, and sometimes it depends on which political party you belong to,” Mkhiza told Vutivi News. He also lamented the lack of training and business development. “Sedibeng is also not as big an area as other regions, so it is difficult for us because there is not much business development happening,” he said.
“There aren’t as many business workshops held here, and as a result many of the businesses don’t know how to manage their finances, or know which skills are needed to improve and grow their businesses.” But Mkhiza did admit that the imbizo may be a step in the right direction. “I believe that it is a promising step for the president to decide to go to the people rather than sending someone to do his job,” he said. Letsele, whose business operates in the Sebokeng and Sharpeville, holds the same view, saying that small business owners do not know where to access information such as growing markets and financial management.
“Here in the Vaal, it is difficult to know how and where to apply for funding programmes meant for SMMEs, and those that do have access to the information tend to want to take advantage of our businesses because we don’t have as much information as they do,” she said. “I don’t have much faith in government’s promises to help Vaal-based businesses grow, but we shall see.”