Talking small businesses with Gauteng MEC Lebogang Maile

Updated on 5 September 2014

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Talking small businesses with Gauteng MEC Lebogang Maile At just 35 years of age, Maile has been tasked with reviving Gauteng as one of the best investment destinations and a prosperous business gateway into Africa.

He has his work cut out for him as South Africa continues to face a sluggish economic growth, rising unemployment figures and a relentless influx to the economic hub as citizens scramble for scarce resources.

In an effort to grow the economy and to create jobs, the province has unveiled plans to support SMEs and co-ops and to create enabling environment for entrepreneurs in the province.

To this end, the Provincial Department of Economic Development, has since July this year, embarked on massive roadshows in preparation of the launch of the province’s R162 million programme to revitalise black townships’ economies.

The programme targets all township SMEs from construction, hospitality, transport as well as informal traders.

In this interview, Maile opens up about his office’s mandate, the province’s economic challenges and the programmes in place to meet those challenges.

“We’ve been able to meet with about 40, 000 SMMEs in about 50 different townships”

On Sunday you completed 100 days in office since your appointment in this new term of government. How has your term been so far?

We have started doing a lot of work. Our biggest programme has been the one on township economic revitalisation. In the 100 days I think it’s significant that we’ve been able to meet with about 40, 000 SMMEs in about 50 different townships. We have a draft strategy for township [economic] revitalization.

We’ve been able to meet with key sectors of the economy and people who are in different industries, the banks for instance. We’ve started the process of finalising an energy security plan for the province. We’ve started relooking at our Gauteng enterprise propeller [programme] because we want to recapitalise it which will happen next year. We want to look at how it conducts its business and ensure there is alignment with all agencies.

But the bulk of the work has been about this township economic revitalisation programme. We’ll be having a summit on the first week of October to finalize the strategy and then start the roll-out.

Can you briefly explain what this township economic revitalisation programme is about?

It’s about reviving township economy. But obviously whether it’s the township economy or mainstream economy, we need to have entrepreneurs at the forefront. So most of these things must be done by them. We will create a conducive environment. We will look at issues like land and property because some of [entrepreneurs] can’t get access. We will look at their capacity to produce and manufacture, and also the issue of market access, funding, entrepreneurship and partnership. These are just a few areas we’ll be looking at.

“If you want to go to business, you must know that you’ve got our support, that the environment is conducive”

What incentives are there for township entrepreneurs to get into the programme rather than continuing to do their business on their own?

This is a theoretical framework which must guide our intervention. It’s not like there’s a programme where there are offices somewhere you go to and bring your business plan and you get money. No, it’s theoretical framework of what must happen in the townships.

We will be mobilizing the people. If you want to go to business, you must know that you’ve got our support, that the environment is conducive, you can be able to get opportunities, be given support and not just by government institutions.

Government cannot fund everybody and that’s why we shouldn’t design something that creates an impression that people are going to get money in some office somewhere, that’s going to fail from day one. This is just a theoretical framework to say what the challenges are and how we should intervene.

Your department has not reached Indian and Coloured communities in certain townships.

We have started going to them. The initiative is there now.

Your task is to revive the economic hub of the continent. What are the main two or three challenges facing this province?

What we said through the Premier’s State of the Province Address is that we are going to pursue radical economic transformation. This will be underpinned by energy security, the revitalisation of the townships economies, the supporting of SMMEs and co-ops and building capacity and looking at regulations that inhibit business.

We want to upscale the training and participation of young people into the economy through what we call Tshepo 500, 000 (i.e. 500, 000 young people for the next five years will be part of that programme at 100, 000 per annum).

We will also be looking at about 11 sectors of the economy to intervene and hopefully ensure that more people gain access into economy and participate especially in the value chain systems.

“[The NDP] is not an option, it must be done and it will be done”

Some of these sectors include finance – which is important since many people don’t have access – creative industries, tourism, real estate and economic infrastructure – which involves energy, ICT infrastructure (broadband), transport infrastructure and construction. These are some of the key areas we will look into.

Tell us more about the recent Diepsloot SMME incubation hub initiative

The project was started long before this term of office. That was just a roof-wetting, we will open it at some point. It’s an incubation hub which is part of a broader supplier park.

It’s a R1.6 billion project. We’re working with the private sector through the Jobs Fund. We raised our contribution of R370 million through the jobs fund, and the private sector through Century Properties they’re contributing the remainder.

  • See also: New Diepsloot SME incubation hub a model for public, private partnerships

That incubation centre will have rent-free office space for about 100 Diepsloot SMMEs for three years. They will be trained and incubated so that in three years’ time they exit the programme and should be running on their own.

How do you ensure that all your programmes are aligned with the National Development Plan?

It’s not an option, it must be done and it will be done. But we also have internal mechanisms like inter-governmental forums where we meet and look at all those things. Everything we do is aligned, there can’t be clashes. It’s not like we have a choice. The NDP is a national plan.

Mayor Parks Tau was recently quoted saying that 10, 000 people move to Johannesburg every month. What impact does this have on economic development?

It has a huge impact on social and economic development. We already have a huge number of unemployed people and most of those who come here are looking for work. So it adds into the number of people looking for work and some of them come with families. It adds on the human settlements list, and adds more people who must get all kinds of government services. And the resources are not growing, they are limited. So it’s a challenge because we have to continue working to grow the economy under those conditions.

An issue of the department’s visibility or yourself on social media was raised with us. Do you think you are using social media optimally to reach your constituency, especially the youth?

To communicate with people we must use different platforms wherever they are, in the church or social media. I don’t know who determines whether we use social media optimally but we are there.

The department is on Facebook, and even on YouTube they can get some of our videos. Twitter gives us feedback every week saying we’re doing well. But there’s always room for improvement.

Lastly, what legacy do you want to leave when you leave this office?

I didn’t come into this office because I contested elections. The ANC did. So it’s not about my legacy but the legacy of the ANC to change the structure of the economy, the patterns of ownership, getting new entrants into the economy and making sure that there is equality.

People who want to have their own legacies end up messing up because they think about themselves and not what the broader picture is. The change I want to see is the change the ANC wants to see. As to whether when I’ve left people would decide to remember certain things about me it’s fine, it’s up to them. But I cannot make an effort to be remembered in a particular way.

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