SA should celebrate its entrepreneurs and treat them like heroes

President Cyril Ramaphosa visits the headquarters of Alibaba Group with the company's co-founder and executive chairperson Jack Ma, in Hangzhou on Wednesday (September 5 2018). Picture: Reuters
President Cyril Ramaphosa visits the headquarters of Alibaba Group with the company's co-founder and executive chairperson Jack Ma, in Hangzhou on Wednesday (September 5 2018). Picture: Reuters

We will not be able to meaningfully reduce unemployment and poverty without increased investment in critical areas of our economy – especially the productive sectors, of which mining is a vital part.

This was said by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 25th annual Investing in Africa Mining Indaba this week.

Since taking office last year, Ramaphosa has promised to get the economy back on track.

He is on an investment drive to raise $100 billion in investments over five years to accelerate meaningful economic growth.

The South African economy has seen some improvements.

The World Bank forecast that South Africa’s economic growth will accelerate to 1.3% in 2019 from an estimated 0.9% in 2018.

“Our message to international investors is that we are taking practical measures to build an economy that is underpinned by inclusive growth, competitiveness and transformation,” said Ramaphosa, addressing the Mining Indaba in Cape Town, which attracted more than 1000 delegates.

“This message found practical expression in the inaugural South Africa Investment Conference, which we hosted in October last year. Several companies at the conference made announcements of investments, which amounted to about $20 billion in total.”

South Africa is the country with the world’s highest unemployment rate at more than 27.2%.

The unemployment rate among young people aged between 15 and 34 was 38.2% – more than one in every three young people are not working.

This is counter to the objectives of the National Development Plan, which wants to reduce the unemployment rate to 15% by 2030.

According to the International Monetary Fund, by 2035 sub-Saharan Africa will have more working age people than the rest of the world regions combined. Analysts call it the ticking time-bomb.

It is increasingly clear that the onus of finding a lasting solution to unemployment does not only rest with the government; it is a call to action to start creating jobs.

South Africa needs more entrepreneurs more than ever before to create new businesses and create employment.

We need more Jack Mas (cofounder and executive chairperson of Alibaba, one of the world’s biggest e-commerce company and employs close to 70 000 employees).

I was inspired by him at the South Africa Investment Conference held in Johannesburg last year, when he shared some tips with South Africans.

He said “for a country to develop, there are three basic things that have to be done that are important. The first is education; it’s always good to invest in education. Investing in people is the best investment in the whole world. And the second thing is trust – build and support entrepreneurs. Make entrepreneurs the heroes. At the top of this is a good and clean government.”

Ma applied for 30 jobs in his youth. He also applied for business funding but was rejected. Yet he managed to pull himself up, striding out alone on a risky mission.

“When KFC came to China, 24 people went for the job, and 23 people were accepted. I was the only guy who wasn’t.”

Today the world celebrates Ma’s success. He is a hero to many.

Even Ramaphosa celebrates him. Last year he tweeted: “I had the pleasure of meeting with one of the world’s foremost entrepreneurs and investors, founder of the Alibaba Group, Mr Jack Ma. We exchanged views and had a good discussion on the global economy and prospects for investment in South Africa. I wish him all the best with his visit.”

Isn’t it time for South Africa to start celebrating informal businesses and give them support?

According to the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, the informal sector is an important source of employment and actually shows a growing propensity to employ.

One in every six South Africans who has work is working in the informal sector. These enterprises provide about 850 000 paid jobs, almost twice the direct employment in the formal mining sector.

It’s time for South Africa to celebrate entrepreneurs and treat them as heroes.

We need to honour entrepreneurs who continue to take risks and create employment for millions of unemployed young people.

It is only through entrepreneurship that South Africa will get out of the unemployment crisis.

In his closing remarks at the Investment Conference business dinner, Ramaphosa said: “We should treat our entrepreneurs as heroes and move away from what we’ve become accustomed to where we treat entrepreneurs and call them all sorts of names. We treat them as enemies, with terms like white monopoly and all that. It ends today. We want to make our businesspeople heroes. Let us see them as heroes because they are here to develop our economy.”

. Lazarus Tshwari is an entrepreneur

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