Small Business Development Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams believes that the government and the private sector are not investing much in small businesses. “We have not co-ordinated efforts towards small business and have been focusing mainly on what the department does, forgetting that every department in the government has programmes for SMMEs,” she told Vutivi News.
“One thing that people fail to pay attention to is that our department is not a department of small businesses, but (it) is a department of small business development.” During the wide-ranging interview, Ndabeni-Abrahams unpacked what her achievements were in her 150 days since taking over the Department of Small Business Development, as well as what its plans were for SMMEs in the future.
The minister said that the department was considering developing its own master plan for small businesses. Some master plans, which have been launched in other sectors, have resulted in a more streamlined approach from stakeholders such as the government and businesses. “We will be approaching all government departments that have developed a master plan (to find out if) there is a share for small businesses, and this will help us inform the intervention we must provide, whether it is financial or non-financial,” she told Vutivi News.
“We want to make sure that development moves from ideas to a product-based level, and we will be targeting the manufacturing, agricultural, digital and automotive space, and at the centre of it is the mining space.” Ndabeni Abrahams said this approach was necessary as the National Development Plan not only mandated the government to create jobs but also highlighted that the state was a critical player in growing and transforming the economy.
“As a co-ordinating department, it means that we are not going to be implementing everything on our own, as we need to engage with social partners and big businesses and listen more to small businesses themselves.” Ndabeni-Abrahams also said that through the Township Development Partnership Programme, the department was building a small enterprise supply chain around the maintenance of township infrastructure.
“We are also building the township and rural economy and giving small businesses the opportunity to access programmes available,” she said. On the merger between the Small Enterprise Development Agency, the Small Enterprise Finance Agency and the Corporate Banks Development Agency to help better coordinate and boost support for SMMEs, Ndabeni-Abrahams said a joint operations forum had been established.
However, the merger may not be completed by the end of March as initially expected. “We are also doing a skills audit of the different agencies because we’re not just transferring people into a new agency, but we are trying to address the challenges faced by small businesses in order to respond to them,” the minister told Vutivi News.
The forum is chaired by the minister alongside a technical team chaired by the director-general. Other interventions included the Youth Challenge Fund, which was launched in November. It is a start-up programme intended to stimulate the establishment and growth of youth-owned businesses.
And later this year, the minister said the department would launch a digital platform “with AI (artificial intelligence) capabilities” so that SMMEs could have access to services and sectors no matter where they were based. Ndabeni-Abrahams reiterated her call for entrepreneurs to apply for grants like the Township Rural Enterprise Programme.
“All we ask is for you to make sure that we walk the path with you and make sure that there you need to be compliant. You must be compliant,” she reminded small businesses.