Deputy minister of trade and industry Fikile Majola speaks to entrepreneurs in the Eastern Cape's Mount Frere area on Monday. Photo: Supplied.

DURBAN - South Africa's deputy minister of trade and industry has encouraged business owners in the Eastern Cape to ensure their relationships with foreigners are amicable, in order to ensure peace on the continent and improved business opportunities. 

Fikile Majola was addressing a meeting of small, medium and micro-enterprise (SMMEs) at Mount Frere in the Umzimvubu Local Municipality on Monday.

Government was "saddened" by the recent xenophobic attacks in the country, he said, and was working hard to strengthen trade relations with African countries.    

Positive trade relations among African nations would open more opportunities for local businesses, he said. 

"Therefore it is critical to ensure that Africans do not fight among themselves."

Majola said the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) was expected to boost intra-African trade by 52 per cent by 2022. 

"The agreement will create the world’s biggest free trade area, with 54 countries and more than a billion people enjoying mostly tariff-free trade." 

“I know we can despair when we observe what is currently happening in our nation. We may feel overcome by some of the difficulties we encounter and the many problems with our economy, but we should not despair.  We will overcome our difficulties. We are children of Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, the likes of Mama Oliver Tambo. We will overcome," he said. 

Government was working to boost the economy, he reiterated. 

“Among other things, we are currently visiting all provinces to look at industrial parks and Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to assess if they are working as they should, and where there is a need we will revitalise them,” he said.

 Umzimvubu municipal manager Thobela Nota said that the area was battling with high unemployment rates, particularly among the youth. 

The business owners in attendance said key problems included lack of infrastructure, water shortages for farming activities, absence of financial and resource support, a lack of general business skills and a deficit of market access for agricultural produce.

Others were frustrated by the administration processes needed to ensure compliance. 

Many said they did not benefit from opportunities because of local procurement stipulations and policies.

Majola urged the business operators to expand their interests.

“We need to diversify the economy so we do not fight over tenders. As government, we know that in order to achieve this we need to support you with critical forms of support and training. But we should all be working towards the goal of ensuring maximum growth and success of our businesses,” he said.  

The deputy minister said he would return with "a bigger delegation" for the next forum.

African News Agency (ANA)