While the government says it is doing its best to open opportunities for small businesses in townships, that appears to be rhetoric.
Where opportunities should be geared towards township developments, these entrepreneurs were always last in line for their businesses to get help.
Entrepreneur and founder of the Township Entrepreneurs Alliance, Bulelani Balabala, said the state should focus on giving small business owners the skills they needed to access business opportunities with the government and the SMME sector.
He was speaking at the Economic Inclusion and the Informal Sector webinar, hosted by the Open Society Foundation’s Centre for Development and Enterprise.
Balabala said that his organisation, which was established in 2015, had a national footprint. It was providing skills development, business support services training and market-access opportunities for township and rural entrepreneurs.It also runs free business mentorship and workshop sessions nationally and hosts annual workshops.
Balabala called on the government to improve its structures that provide much-needed growth in a sector that was largely neglected.
“Uniquely, the challenges that a township entrepreneur faces is a little bit different to an entrepreneur based in an affluent area,” he said.
“There are various factors that restrict a township entrepreneur from accessing the same level of opportunities that an entrepreneur from a different location like Bryanston or Sandton, or one from a privileged background, has access to.”
Balabala said this was because townships did have facilities and institutions that aggressively promoted economic development.
“Providing access to information about how markets work and how government procurement works would put more township entrepreneurs in an advantageous position for them to access available opportunities,” he said.
Balabala said evidence showed that the township economy was not on top of the government’s list.
“COVID-19 presented government a great opportunity to ramp up their relief support for small businesses, especially regarding relief support from the market they operate in,” he said.
“However, we saw quite a few number of small businesses being sidelined.”
Also, small businesses were left out of government procurement contracts.
“Entrepreneurs that are supposed to be participating in the procurement contracts are left out in the cold,” he said.
“The only way you can stimulate entrepreneurial growth is by giving small businesses access to the market and access to government procurement.”
The state needed to provide tailor-made skills training to entrepreneurs, he said.
“Government training programmes for township business owners must match the needs that township entrepreneurs have regarding skills that they need to thrive in the small business sector.”