Clem Sunter

Dear Ebrahim, meet Mosa

2010-12-01 13:05

Quitters never win and winners never quit. So says Ted Turner, the founder of CNN. I haven’t won yet but neither am I quitting. The only way the New Growth Path recommended by Economic Development Minister, Ebrahim Patel, is going to lead to the Promised Land is to replicate Mosa Moeketsi a million times.

She is an entrepreneur of note – or as I would say – a pocket of excellence. According to an article in The Star by Lana Jacobson, she holds the record as the youngest woman to own a construction company in South Africa. Her enterprise now employs 16 people to construct roads, dig manholes, build low-cost housing and supply plumbing systems.

She won the Alexandra Business Leader of the Year award in 2007 but was disqualified from possibly winning the prize for Influential Women in Business and Government because she was too young. Hats off to Lana for bringing this young lady to our attention.

My point, Ebrahim, is this. It is all very well setting targets for the numbers of new engineers and artisans required to get South Africa on a growth footing, but they are the workers. You need the businesses to employ them and who creates the businesses – the Mosas of this world. It would have been far more inspirational (and revolutionary) to set as a target the creation of a supportive environment in which one million new small businesses will be established by 2020, rather than five million new jobs. Guess what: if the goal of one million new small businesses was achieved and they were like Mosa’s one, that would be 16 million extra jobs. Many will fail prematurely, but many will grow beyond 16 employees.

One of the problems is that you as Minister never get to talk to the real entrepreneurs (who don’t make money through connections or exploiting one or other system of entitlement). I am talking about the people who have nothing but drive and a dream to begin with and turn them into a fortune. There are plenty of these stars in South Africa like Mosa and Raymond Ackerman.

Nor do the business people with whom you rub shoulders on august bodies – like the National Planning Commission – have any clue of what it takes to be an entrepreneur, assuming all the risks, personally solving individual employee problems and collecting the money. Most business representatives on these bodies have spent their entire careers in big corporations where everything is sorted out by specialist staff, it is shareholders’ money – not their own – on the line and they never have to worry about next month’s salary cheque.

I know about the two worlds because I spent about 42 years at Anglo American and now I run my own consultancy business. It is as different as chalk and cheese. Nothing prepares one for being an entrepreneur other than going through the experience oneself.

So do yourself a favour, Ebrahim. Set up a meeting with Mosa and ask her what she needs to grow her business and get it listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. After all, you as government are her principal service provider. South Africa will only take a new growth path if you back the winners like Mosa so that they improve their talent for wealth creation.

For, it is an indisputable fact that wealth creation and job creation go hand in hand; but it is the first that leads to the second – not the other way round. She is paying for your salary (through taxes): you are not paying for hers.

Freedom fighters fought the war to give champions like Mosa the freedom and opportunity to become world class. Others will follow in her footsteps. Thus our hideous unemployment rate will become a thing of the past. A Luta continua.

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