Dr Thami Mazwai
JOHANNESBURG - A belated marriage is about to take place; the joining of efforts by the department of Small Business Development (DSBD) and that of Higher Education and Training (DHET) to accelerate entrepreneurship and small business development.

The two are to set up a task team to design a framework for this relationship, and how other departments will also fit into it.

Small business development in our country is a kaleidoscope of numerous approaches that hardly interlock. It also reflects the most vicious shortcoming of our democracy, the disjuncture between provinces and national government, and between departments.

Even though DSBD has several transversal agreements with other departments to assist in their small business requirements; but they seem not worth the paper they are written on.

Divide

The MinMecs, relationships between national ministers and provincial counterparts, simply do not bridge this divide. Thus, this development is of major significance, more so in the light of the recent conference on local economic development.

This initiative is also important as research has shown that a co-ordinated approach that includes all major players, including the private sector, holds the key to successful small business development. Many of our universities and the Technical and Vocation Education Training centres have small business centres.

It is only natural that they must be directly linked to the operations of the DSBD. The role of these small business centres came to mind as the University of Johannesburg (UJ) bade farewell to Vice Chancellor Professor Ihron Rensburg, who leaves at the end of the year.

This mention is of relevance as among Rensburg’s many achievements, he created the Centre of Small Business Development (CSBD) locating it in the Soweto campus. He wanted the centre, thus the university, to be part of the economic development of the area.

It was part of his vision in transforming UJ’s Soweto campus from being an apartheid created misfit to an important component of the university.

Other universities that inherited the then Vista universities in various townships have treated them as “that thing from Kader Asmal”. While giving them special responsibilities, some important, they did not absorb them into the university life and experience.

The CSBD has partnered with the City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng Government in developing Soweto entrepreneurs, giving credence to Rensburg’s vision.

Thus, as the CSBD grows, it must not be forgotten that it was part of the visionary thinking of Rensburg.

I assume the university will, in the interests of the public, enunciate other achievements by Rensburg, which include a world ranking in the top 500 of 25000 world universities.

We need plenty good news stories in an environment of doom and gloom, and this is one of them.

Furthermore, what touches most is that he also initiated a feeding scheme for black students.

As most come from poor households, they sometimes do not even have a decent and full meal in a week. Yet, university study has its demands, and these must not be deflected by an empty stomach.

Professor Adam Habib, then at UJ and now Vice Chancellor of Wits, set up the project with 3000 students and it today provides 12000 students with two meals a day. It is in partnership with the Gift of Givers, Shoprite, Tiger Brands and the Department of Social Development.

According to Rensburg the university will break the camel’s back when it feeds 25000, which is the real need. This figure of 25000 is a stark signpost of the poverty, unemployment and inequality bedevilling South Africa.

It is the face to the levels of poverty in our country, that of tertiary students at school but having to go without meals. There are other faces.

Maladies

UJ, or rather Rensburg, is not only showing the way, but it is also an indirect link to the role of universities in fighting the maladies of society.

In thinking out aloud, such a project at all universities can stimulate entrepreneurship in local communities as providers of the meals. Thus, the marriage between the small business department and that of higher education, the process must be accelerated.

After all, entrepreneurship and small business development are fast growing fields of study as the world grapples with poverty.

South Africa must also give a socio-cultural dimension, which will be dealt with in my next column.

The necessity of entrepreneurship is highlighted by the fact that more than 3billion of the world’s population live on less than R35 a day and some 1.3billion on less than R17 a day.

Only solutions based on entrepreneurship will relieve the situation. More so that 20million South Africans live on less than R500 per person per month and social grants are not a sustainable solution.

Oxfam, the world charity and development organisation, warns that since 2015, the richest 1percent in the world own more wealth than the rest of the planet.

The incomes of the poorest 10percent of people in the world increased by less than R45 a year between 1988 and 2011, while the incomes of the richest 1percent increased 182times as much. Hence, Oxfam warns that the growing inequality threatens to pull our societies apart. It increases crime and insecurity and undermines the fight to end poverty.

This is happening right here at home. The fact that our universities are getting to grips with this is more than welcome, and the DSBD and DHET initiative must be accelerated and supported.

Dr Thami Mazwai is a member of the National Planning Commission and is also special adviser to the Minister of Small Business Development. He writes in his personal capacity.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

- BUSINESS REPORT