Dr Thami Mazwai
JOHANNESBURG - The attention that small business is now getting in the media, particularly radio, can only bode well for South Africa.

But some of the commentators in the media must deepen their knowledge of entrepreneurship and the dynamics that drive it.

This would be their contribution in the struggle against poverty, unemployment and inequality. But more of this later. It was gratifying to see the media turn out in their numbers when the new African Chapter of the Global Entrepreneurship Network launched its Global Entrepreneurship Week, now being commemorated in over 120 countries.

The hundreds at the venue were all agog as internationally known and respected entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson launched the initiative. This was last Friday, and this venue at 22 on Sloane is a new initiative which our young can go to and brainstorm their ideas and get advice on their entrepreneurial ideals, even financial support.

It is touted as our Silicon Valley, the region in the US renowned for creating entrepreneurs in droves. Without turning this column into a lecture, but the word “silicon” originally referred to the large number of silicon chip innovators and manufacturers in the region, and the area is now the home to many of the world’s largest hi-tech corporations and thousands of start-up companies. It also accounts for one-third of all of the venture capital investment in the US, and it has become a leading hub and start-up ecosystem for hi-tech innovation and scientific development. It was in the valley that the silicon-based integrated circuit - the microprocessor and the microcomputer - among other key technologies, were developed.

Each year, hundreds of designers and creators go to the valley to try their luck as inventors. This is now replicated in many countries, for instance Chile’s “Start Up Chile” programme, and hence the idea of 22 on Sloane being our version of Silicon Valley. It would be nice if our media really did something on this project, as it will get our youth to be more entrepreneurial.

Let us now talk about the two interviews that troubled me, one of which troubled me very much. I am talking principle and I am not going to mention names or radio stations. Both commentators reflected that mindset I referred to in my last column in which South Africa’s elite, black and white, just don’t take small business seriously.

The media must take this subject more seriously, and not only as an issue to be reported on. It is only the emergence of hundreds of successful small businesses that can take us to a better life for all.

This means our commentators must know the subject. In the first, a successful entrepreneur was being interviewed, and he said “There is a streak of entrepreneurship in each and every one of us”, to which the interviewer retorted with excitement: “Exactly, we now get that going in each one of us.”

Really? Everyone an entrepreneur? It’s a new one for the gurus, and these include the likes of Shane Scott, Joseph Schumpeter, Israel Kirzner or Ramaswamy Venkataraman, to name only a few out of scores.

In the second incident, and this really got my goat, the commentator bemoaned the fact that some people sell sea water and said: “People are being taken for a ride. Imagine buying a bottle of sea water when it’s free in the ocean.”

Let us educate the two journalists. Not all people are entrepreneurs.

The basis of entrepreneurship as an area of study was defined by the above gurus as an area in which three sets of research questions are asked. The first is “why, when and how opportunities for the creation of goods and services come into existence”. The second is “why, when and how some people and not others discover and exploit these opportunities”. And, thirdly why, when and how different modes of action are used to exploit entrepreneurial opportunities.

These three questions illustrate the depth of the subject, and that some people have it, but most do not. In fairness, I want to assume that the entrepreneur being interviewed was trying to encourage others to get into entrepreneurship, which was not bad at the end of the day.

But the interviewer should not have excitedly endorsed such an idea, as it is not so. Thus, the interviewer had it wrong. Secondly, regarding the sea water, I do not know why the commentator was so passionate that selling this water is taking people for a ride, when we buy water at the supermarket every other day.

In any case, even the people of uMlazi in Durban pay to get to the beach and get water. Does it mean this person from uMlazi must give sea water away free when he incurred some costs: paying the taxi fare to the beach and the time he spent at the beach?

And, to crown it all, he had the idea that there were people ready and willing to buy the sea water. Is this uMlazi person not meeting a demand? Indeed, I think the commentator got it grossly wrong. As I said, our journalists need to drink deeper into the well of entrepreneurial knowledge if they must be of service.

This is a subject and area of activity that transforms economies and has been responsible for the creation of millions of jobs and the evolution of technology. It is the end-all and be-all of economic growth and development.

Dr Thami Mazwai is special adviser to the minister of small business development, but writes in his personal capacity.