SME Indaba calls for business investment in South Africa

The first SME Indaba organised by AHI South Africa discussed why big and small businesses should work together.

jobs sme mcebisi jonas
Former deputy minister of finance Mcebisi Jonas (left) and AHI South Africa president Bernard Swanepoel. Jonas is a speaker at the SME Indaba on 5 April 2017. He says bringing small and big business together is a powerful tool. (Image: Melissa Javan)

Melissa Javan
Pay invoices on time, AHI South Africa president Bernard Swanepoel challenged owners of big corporates, the government and members of his organisation. “Think small [businesses] first. Consider the effects on small and medium enterprises (SMEs).”

Swanepoel gave the welcoming address of the AHI South Africa’s first SME Indaba, held in Centurion on 5 April 2017. The theme of the one-day conference was “Creating jobs against all odds”.

The AHI is a national multisectoral, inclusive business organisation consisting of corporate, medium and small enterprises and affiliated business chambers. It represents more than 100 business chambers, more than 4,000 businesses and has trained 740 entrepreneurs, it says.

The AHI’s mission is to promote the economic and business interests of its members and to facilitate networks and interaction between businesses and the government.

Swanepoel’s second challenge was that his members commit this year to creating two entry level jobs. “Take your business and create a job.”

He added: “If there is no growth in your business, it will die. You cannot stagnate as a business… Invest in your businesses. Invest in the future of the country.”

Businesses, get involved

Former deputy minister of finance Mcebisi Jonas was the keynote speaker. He said the future of the country was in South Africans’ hands. “We need to strengthen leadership.”

There was a need for the business sector to be involved in and to collaborate with government programmes, especially when it came to training emerging entrepreneurs, he said.

Jonas also urged businesses to invest in doing research so that relevant training could be given to students. Businesses should go to where students where, in colleges and universities and in need of relevant industry training.

Members should not underestimate the power of an organisation such as the AHI, he said. “[An organisation like this] can provide a stronger network of enterprises. Bringing small and big business together is a powerful tool.

“You can see how you can use the supply chain to promote growth – you enhance growth where there is an organisation of big and small business.”

Asked about South Africa being downgraded to junk status by ratings agency S&P Global Ratings on 5 April, Jonas said: “We will bounce back as a country but it will require that we become more robust. We need to boost things such as our agricultural programmes and other programmes that are working.”

He added: “We need to do more about scaling.”

A national dialogue was needed so we could talk about where we should be going as a country. “I fear that if we don’t have a national dialogue we’ll be replacing the white elite with the black elite. That is not right.”

panel sme indaba jobs
Chief executive officer of AHI South Africa, Dr. Ernest Messina, Prof. Edith Vries of the Department: Small Business Development and Ashraf Adam of the South Africa Local Government Association are panellists discussing “How national and local governments enable or stifle SMEs” at the SME Indaba on 5 April 2017. (Image: Melissa Javan)

SMMEs’ challenges

Business Unity South Africa (Busa) had found the number one barrier for many SMEs was access to skilled staff, said Tanya Cohen, the organisation’s CEO. She spoke about the challenges SMEs faced.

Skills training and relevant transformation was necessary, said Cohen. It was important that the South African economy was open to all. “We need to do this; [South Africa must be] inclusive of black people, women, people with disabilities and those living in rural areas.”

Cohen also spoke about the country’s minimum wage and its effect on SMMEs. A quarter of small, medium and micro enterprises were able to afford the minimum wage, but three-quarters of SMMEs “are going to struggle to pay [it]”.

Negotiations were ongoing to exempt SMMEs from paying the minimum wage. “It’s something that we will have to continue to motivate for.”

It was Busa’s mission to secure conditions so that business could thrive, Cohen said. “Our focus is what we can do for business.”

Other discussions

Entrepreneurs on the panel “Negotiating the minefield of regulation and bureaucracy affecting SMEs”, had advice for businesses:

Paul Marias: “My best investment advice is read, read and read. Also comply with the legislation.”

Octavia Motloa: “A lot of people think that if they are a small business they can do mediocre work. No, it shouldn’t be. The quality of your work must be exceptional. As you excel in that it creates opportunities.”

Annie Malan: “Continuously ask yourself ‘how do I re-evaluate myself?’ You have to stay ahead [of the game].”

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