Johannesburg — I AM whistling "I could have danced all night" as I write this, as sung by Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle in the musical My Fair Lady. Doolittle was deliriously excited after being fêted by the queen at a banquet; just as I am pleased with the way things are going regarding small business.
More people and organisations now take small business, the lifeblood of our economy, more seriously. India's Salil Singhal, chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry's National Council for Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises, is not mistaken when he says small business is the fulcrum of the national economy. The impressive and heightened activity around small business in the past two weeks includes the following - and these were just in Gauteng:
n last week a skills summit was convened by Dr Blade Nzimande's Department of Higher Education and Training at which small business was endorsed as part of the skills demand and supply architecture; n in a colloquium involving the Standard Bank and the Black Management Forum (BMF), the BMF's deputy head, Thembakazi M nyaka, announced a three-year enterprise development campaign;
new Business Unity SA president Futhi Mtoba told her council that as the interests of small business are paramount to address the country's challenges, this sector must get increased attention;
Gauteng economic development MEC Firoz Cachalia spoke of enterprise development centres in his budget speech, and the elements are being put in place;
the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) launched a further four trade points to prepare small business for regional, continental and overseas markets; and,
Khula Enterprise Finance is devising a new strategy and providing finance to small business.
This year, chief operations officer Mkhululi Mazibuko said Khula is going to have a sharper focus on township economies. I like that lad.
The most significant of the above are the skills summit, the mooted BMF campaign, Cachalia's enterprise districts and Mazibuko's thinking. This mix could power economic development in our townships . But first, some detail. According to deliberations at the skills summit, skilling small businesses will be part of the key performance areas for sectoral education and training authorities and bureaucrats. Thus, sector skills plans will not be approved if they do not include small business. Prof Mary Metcalfe, director-general of the higher education department, said: "The details of the sector skills plan and the new skills framework which the minister is about to announce will take this process forward."
As Nzimande has been innovative since launching this department, I will not be surprised if small businesses become part of the learnership programmes. Learnerships in small businesses could be effective as these are always short of labour. It will be sink or swim for the learners, and thus real hands-on experience.
Reminds me how my friends taught me to swim. I am only alive after this lesson because of God's grace!
I am mightily impressed with the BMF for starting the enterprise development campaign. A very important benefit of this campaign is that the Model C battalion, or so-called black diamonds, now in managerial positions, some of whom are BMF members, could undergo a mind-set change. I sometimes wonder if this group knows that this country is not all Sandton, but also has rural areas, townships, and informal settlements with more than 4,7- million of their uncles, aunts, cousins and other relatives living there in abject poverty.
Cachalia said his centres would house small business agencies from various government departments and even offer other services to small business.
My point is that we must integrate small business support. Giving finance and/or training is not enough when the small business does not have a market. This is where the black diamonds come in as they decide on procurement in the organisations they work for. Many still purchase from previous suppliers because, they chant: "We are interested in quality." Fancy, this coming from them.
In any case, when the BMF hoists its flag high alongside that of the higher education department, Cachalia and the Sedas and Khulas of this world, we are making progress and it's time the other black professional associations come on board. Let us talk of a b lack e conomic e mpowerment that touches the lives in townships and rural areas, as this is how we will stop protests about "non delivery".
Dr Mazwai is director of the Centre for Small Business Development at the University of Johannesburg, Soweto campus.