A war of words has erupted between business associations in the Eastern Cape over small businesses that have been disrupting construction projects in the province.
In a bid to pressure the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality to provide more projects to small businesses, a number of business owners have turned to disrupting multi-million rand projects in Port Elizabeth, with police in some instances having had to be called in to restore order
Some of the recent projects that were interrupted include extensions to the Port Elizabeth Opera House, construction of the multi-million rand Bay West Mall and work on the Coega Industrial Development Zone where numerous projects are breaking new ground.
Business associations, including the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce (Nafcoc) and the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber have hit out at those business owners disrupting projects.
The business owners in question go to construction sites in groups and physically threaten workers singing revolutionary songs and toyi-toying.
Msiza Madikane, president of a splinter group in Nelson Mandela Bay also by the name of Nafcoc, has also accused the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality of entertaining the demands of the small business owners, thereby creating an enabling environment for such business owners to “cause havoc and chaos in the construction industry”.
Madikane was referring to the metro’s policy of getting established contractors to subcontract 25% of the work awarded to them to small businesses.
“The municipality has created a ‘Frankenstein’ which will devour it. The metro’s mistake was to ring-fence certain projects for small businesses. They have now created a monster which has come back to haunt them,” says Madikane.
He adds that business is about competition and that nobody has the right to demand work –companies should tender for work and should not expect to just be handed work.
He suggests that the municipality should come up with a package of all tenders, let all business owners bid for them – thus giving each and every one a fair chance.
“You cannot just set aside certain work for a certain group just because they are small businesses,” he says.
But Black Business Forum secretary Mheli Peter says the municipality’s 25% policy is needed, because white-owned companies still benefit from the majority of municipal tenders.
“Although we do not condone violence from small business owners as they demand work, it is a fact that white-owned companies continue to benefit.”
“Nafcoc, divided as it is, does not help us. Despite their claim that they represent black business, they have failed us –they do not shape black business. Maybe Nafcoc is white now,” said Peter.
Most black business owners Small Business Connect spoke to, and who declined to be named for fear of reprisals, said the actions of small business owners disrupting projects reflected “badly” on black business.
“The behaviour is adversely affecting some black businesses who are committed to do business in a professional way, and creating a wrong impression of the industry,” said one black business owner.
Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality economic development executive director Anele Qaba denied that his institution was exacerbating the situation by favouring certain small business owners.
“As a municipality it is our responsibility to listen to and assist their demands and concerns. We need to make sure that small business owners benefit from (the 25% policy), but it must also be remembered that business knows no colour.
It’s not only blacks who own small enterprises.
“These business owners feel that Nafcoc had done nothing for them and that’s why we have formed forums to remedy the situation,” said Qaba.
He said regular meetings will be held between his department and the relevant parties involved to find a resolution to the impasse.