A national debate in the small business community has flared up following the announcement last month by African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Gwede Mantashe that a small business ministry might be introduced after the elections.
Khusela Sangoni, ANC spokeswoman, says Mantashe does not want to comment on the matter at this stage because the proposal for the ministry is still being debated within the ruling party.
“We realise the importance of the small business sector and that there is a need to place more focus on this sector because they are the engine of growth of this economy, but at this stage it is an internal debate within the ANC,” says Sangoni. Matashe made the announcement at a recent South African Chamber of Commerce (Sacci) event.
Sacci chief executive Neren Rau, who was present at the event, says several challenges faced by small business owners were discussed with Mantashe which culminated in the announcement.
“We will support a ministry that will enable small businesses. If the sole purpose of the ministry is to develop and support small businesses we will welcome that.”
However, he says there is still a lot of uncertainty on the purpose of the ministry.
“We will not be excited if the ministry was just another regulatory institution that will add more red tape,” says Rau.
Should this ministry come into being, business associations Small Business Connect spoke to, say they would like to see issues affecting small businesses receive closer attention, including access to finance, a standard definition of small enterprises and a standard set of exemption criteria.
Mantashe’s announcement was welcomed by the Black Business Council (BBC) who have been campaigning for small businesses to have their own ministry.
Sandile Zungu, spokesperson for the BBC, applauds the announcement saying the ministry will provide small business owners with a “home”.
“We have no reason to believe that this will not happen. We are pleased that such a commitment has been made from the secretary general,” says Zungu.
He says small business owners will know exactly which door to go to.
“Previously they only had a voice, which was not always heard, but now there will be a standalone ministry for small businesses.
Ideally the person heading up this ministry should be someone with a passion and history in being an activist for small businesses,” says Zungu.
Matsi Modise, national executive director for the South African Black Entrepreneurs Forum agrees with Zungu.
“The minister does not necessarily need to have been an entrepreneur, but he or she should have a stronghold of people who have run a business or have been involved in business support organisations.
“There should be a voice for entrepreneurs so that we can engage with those in government who implement policies,” says Modise.
She says she remains wary that such a ministry would add to the red tape already burdening business owners.
Small Business Connect spoke to business owners on the possible creation of the ministry.
Rasheed Hargey, owner of sensor technology business Uzazi Technology, says that the ministry should have been set up years ago.
“I think it is absolutely excellent to have a dedicated ministry that will provide small business owners with enhanced support and I think that this will stimulate job creation,” says Hargey.
However, Yolisa Molefe, who owns Siyahluma Nathi Consultants, says until more details are released she is staying cautiously optimistic.
“I am not sure whether this is a good idea,” says Molefe.