Small businesses need to band together into a strongly organised force to participate fully in the economy and not wait for government handouts, according to Dr Sam Motsuenyane.
The doyen of black business, who was instrumental in organising small businesses in the 60s as president of the National African Federation Chambers of Commerce (NAFCOC), is greatly concerned about SMMEs crumbling, and wants them to galvanise as they did the past.
In a wide-ranging interview with Vutivi News, he said that while there was a lack of support from the government, private sector and SMME watchdogs, small businesses needed to act.
“I got involved very strongly in the development of SMMEs in the mid-1960s as president of Nafcoc. It’s unfortunate that we do not have strongly organised black businesses today because they are absolutely necessary in the development of the country’s economy.”
He said that through NAFCOC and the African Bank, where he was the first founding chairperson, they strongly advocated for SMMEs to participate fully in the economy.
“We organised ourselves as businesses to create the African Bank in 1975, and we also encouraged black people to go into smaller industries by forming the National African Farmer’s Union and the African Development and Construction Company.
“Through Nafcoc I am pleased to say that over a period of 30 years, a lot of SMMEs operated in nearly every township… These were black-owned businesses which were formed during the dark days of apartheid. But today I see very few strongly organised black-owned chambers of commerce and industry in the townships,” he said.
Instead, Motsuenyane, said township businesses were now mostly being run by foreign nationals.
“We should really be leading the development of small business which are necessary because of the high levels of poverty and unemployment,” he said.
He said another problem was that small businesses relied on the state.
“If we rely entirely on what the government must do for us, we will never get off the ground. The attitude of the government will also change if they see us taking the initiative to develop our areas and our own businesses, starting projects where we will then call on government to come in as an assisting party so that we can go forward,” Motsuenyane said.
He wants the country to take a leaf from the pages of other developed countries. “None of (them) could have achieved that development without having had a small business sector, and even the biggest countries today still have a very strong small business sector.
“They (the government and private sector) should see it as their responsibility to participate in growing small businesses among black people so that we are brought into the mainstream of the economic life of our country.”
In South Africa, he said the current administration has given black businesses false hope by too much talk and not enough action.
President Cyril Ramaphosa needed reminding of how it worked in the past, Motsuenyane said. “Until the 1980s, black people in the urban areas were not getting any funding from the government. It was only in 1980 that the Small Business Development Corporation was started to help the funding of black businesses, but for a long time they lacked funding, and this is still a problem in the present generation.” His other worry was how NAFCOC had become divided.
“There is a committee of stalwarts that have been committed to this goal, and I would like to leave behind a NAFCOC that is working,” he vowed.