Our beautiful nation has faced multiple challenges since the end of apartheid. The 22 years of democracy are only in the infancy stages of trying to rectify centuries of injustice and prejudice perpetuated on the people of this land. The product includes the distasteful government corruption, poor service delivery, misappropriation of resources and an all-time high unemployment rate.
Nonetheless, this has not dampened government’s efforts to stimulate economic growth and job creation to meet the National Development Plan (NDP) target of creating 11 million jobs by 2030 through a number of government initiatives. The latest of these is the black industrialist programme, which seeks to support 100 black entrepreneurs to become the future industrialists of our country. Government, through key organisations like the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), has committed R100 billion to the development of these 100 businesses. Ultimately, the idea is to expand SA’s industrial base and change the skewed ownership and control of the economy, still largely in white hands two decades after apartheid. Government has said it will set aside R1bn during its first year to fund the companies concerned. While the R1bn may be too small to effectively facilitate a capital-intensive industry, it is just the start.
One could say that the black industrialist programme is the evolution of the ESD pillar in the B-BBEE codes. It seeks to offer support to black businesses that turnover less than R50m, only if the programme doesn’t seek to drive the same objectives of ESD – as there are many government programmes that already support start-ups and gazelles, such as Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), National Empowerment Fund (NEF), and the gazelles programme.
The natural fear would be that this would be a patronage exercise to government’s loyalists where only the connected benefit. To curb this notion from becoming a reality, government would do well to not act with haste in the implementation of the programme and to think through the value chain of what it would take to create a black industrialist.
The big question on everyone’s mind is whether an industrialist can indeed be created or whether an industrialist is the result of the organic growth of an entrepreneur who has survived the most difficult of climates through innovation, ingenuity, adaptability and perseverance. In the latter, you would expect an ordinary individual, with an extraordinary vision, pioneering mind and exerted effort of talent to make his/her dreams become a reality.
Surely to create this type of individual, merely funding the said business is not by any means adequate. One would first have to equip an individual with the tools to bring to life his/her innovations. The first level of true empowerment is enlightenment through education. It is clear that this has to take place at the earliest stage of a child’s development. Children can no longer be taught to go to school or university to merely get a job. We should be instilling in our children the fact that they have the power to be problem-solvers at any age and that an education further expands their horizon on how to find solutions to everyday problems or how to be the leaders of new frontiers. These youth go on to become our future black industrialists, not because there is a pot of gold waiting for them, but rather because their passion to contribute to the betterment of society and, for example, making markets more accessible, inherently will create generational wealth – not just from an economic standpoint, but also culturally. And truly, isn’t that where it all begins? Before we can seek to address the economic inequalities and asset/land misappropriation, should we not seek to foster positive mind-sets that look to change the behavioural attitudes of our black society?
Our youth should aspire to educating themselves in order to build for themselves and their communities and they should be taught shared value creation; they should not seek employment for the funding of a lifestyle that is not sustainable and does not promote wealth generation, but quickly lends itself to the vicious circle of debt.
To create black industrialists while allowing these behaviours to continue to be perpetuated would find our communities stuck in the get-rich schemes of “tenderpreneurship”, where we do not pave the way for those coming after us. It is about time that the wealth created seeks to unburden our youth of black tax (having to provide for our families, paying university debts well into our careers etc.), so that we too enjoy the freedom of taking risks – the true essence of entrepreneurship, much like our white counterparts who, after varsity, go on to create ventures that may fail or succeed, but the experience to them becomes priceless on their ongoing quest to become entrepreneurs.
Creating future black industrialists cannot be mutually exclusive of building free-thinking and empowered youth, as it is from them that we will see unbridled innovation taking Africa into new frontiers. We first should show them the realm of opportunity available to them, teach them to look beyond that and then unburden their journey by freeing them of the black tax shackles and “keeping up with the Jones’” mentality.
We can’t manufacture industrialists and expect resounding results, but we can create conditions that allow for forward thinking entrepreneurs to thrive in and it all starts with changing a mind-set of entitlement in our youth to one of ownership of self and can-do.