A few years ago, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel appointed a panel to interrogate the reasons why government interventions into small business development were not bearing the anticipated fruit. At the time, the government had spent about R10 billion a year in small-business support through national departments and provincial and local government.
State-owned companies were also doing a lot through the State-Owned Entities Procurement Forum. Unfortunately, the return on investment has been relatively low for this massive investment, with several constraints identified as responsible for the poor showing.
Some of these include a highly concentrated economy, National Treasury regulations such as the Preferential Procurement Policy Finance Act and the Public Finance Management Act, as the Black Business Council continues to argue.
The Small Business Project and the Free Market Foundation, with various government departments concurring, decry the regulatory burden. Strangely, the socio- cultural dimension is ignored, yet the environment is key to the success or failure of any programme.
Small-business support must be looked at in totality rather than the current microwave approach. This approach sees small-business support as “finance plus training plus mentoring plus market access, and presto, these small businesses should now be viable”.
Small-business support is much more complex and multifaceted, and the intangibles in the environment - psychological, anthropological and sociological - are always at play, and we unfortunately do not have any control over them.
Thus, while it is not possible to integrate or prescribe these dynamics into policy or programmes, an understanding and recognition of these is critical and a very important step.
Unfortunately, in the analysis of constraints, these are always ignored at conceptual level but occasionally reflected upon in the analysis of the individual.
There appears to be a strange notion that small businesses are homogeneous and that solutions, like a cough mixture, can be applied holus bolus with a measure of certainly. Alas. Yet the small-business sector is the most heterogeneous in any economy, and the most difficult to manage because of its complexity. And it is the human element, psychology, and the social dynamics and sociology that are responsible for the complexity.
Hence entrepreneurship researcher Alison Morrison (2008) argues that entrepreneurial activity is a key definer of society, its ecosystems and of the environment.
In addition, in a paper published in 2013, Sharon Alvarez, Jay Barney and Susan Young also confirmed that entrepreneurship is a societal activity involving people in a specific space in which formal and informal rules govern their interaction.
The informal rules are the social and cultural dynamics that drive the said community. Thus, this socio-cultural interface is the glue that binds and stimulates entrepreneurship in communities, in which consumption is counterbalanced by production in the area.
In short, we must contextualise entrepreneurship in terms of the lived experience of a people, normally referred to as their social reality, and not necessarily and solely on the basis and/or to comply with - to refer to Marxist terminology - the base and superstructure we have inherited. This does not reject the superstructure, as it is reality, and, in any case, the two are interrelated.
What is of concern is the chemistry between it and black South Africa, my reference to socio-cultural dynamics, and the superstructure. After all, townships and rural areas continue in the apartheid mode as locations of cheap labour for industry and commerce, and they got paid to purchase their daily needs. The consumption-production area matrix found in other communities lacks.
This disjuncture is a throwback of the apartheid past. Yet entrepreneurship was part of pre-colonial Africa even if expressed in indigenous terms, for instance accumulating livestock and/or land.
However, colonialism stunted this entrepreneurial zeal as the dominated were not allowed to create their own wealth in whatever form. In short, wealth creation, as education, became a tool to control the colonised.
As development involves the older generation onpass behaviours to the newer ones, the evolution of behaviours in black South Africa saw entrepreneurship diluted. It did not peter out, but entrepreneurship became the exception rather than the norm. Hence the levels of entrepreneurship in black areas are lower in comparison to those in white and Indian communities.
In addition, stokvels, the savings clubs strewn throughout black South Africa, are consumption driven and not investment or productivity driven. To compound the situation, and in the words of Algerian scholar Frantz Fanon and Brazilian educationist Paolo Freire, the former colonised have also internalised the inferiority accorded to them by the coloniser.
They thus see colonial values as the standard. For instance, blacks in general, more so those in townships and rural areas, do not trust goods and services provided or produced by their own.
Thus, money does not circulate in these areas, leading to further deterioration of the social context, as illustrated by Alvarez, Barney and Young quoted above.
While issues of price and quality may be factors, the mindset remains in discussion. It is this mindset that decolonisation must address. The formerly colonised must stop seeing themselves in negative terms unless they do as others. They must be proud of what they are, what they do and what they produce.
Hence, one is excited that students are now talking decolonisation. Education is naturally the centrepiece and if it is provided in terms of our value systems and aspirations, our future will be intact. In addition, this decolonisation will then affect other disciplines, including wealth creation. It can only propel Africa forward.
Lastly, the focus on decolonisation follows on the ideological representation of the black cause in the illustrious history of student activism in our country.
From the early days of our Struggle, the Nelson Mandelas, Robert Sobukwes, Oliver Tambos and Ellen Khuzwayos, then students at the University of Fort Hare, took on the might of the state based on their interpretation of colonial domination, with specific nuances specific to the South African conundrum.
They were followed by others who had formed the African Students Association and the African Students Union of South Africa, in which student leaders Mongezi Ntanga and George Mushwana were trailblazers.
Then followed the Black Consciousness Movement, in which the likes of Steve Biko, Barney Pityana, Cyril Ramaphosa, Nkosazana Dlamini, Deborah Matshoba and Thenjiwe Mtintso were in the forefront.
It was in this generation that Biko’s famous quote, “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”, emerged. This expression is now galvanising the current generation of our students who do not see the type of education they get resulting in the eradication of poverty, unemployment and inequality in our communities.
This approach, without abandoning universal access, makes more sense, parti- cularly in an entrepreneurship and economic development perspective, as attested to by African scholars in numerous versions of African development, now embodied in the New Partnership for Africa's Development.
It is our economic emancipation, in which entrepreneurship and small business development are critical elements, that will earn our continent its rightful place on the global roundtable. This is what our students are aspiring to.
Dr Thami Mazwai is special adviser to the minister of small business development, but writes in his personal capacity.
The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.