OPINION: We can. We will. End of story

Marc Ashton
Marc Ashton

Much like we need to fight back against corruption, fake news and other societal ills, we need to fight back against pessimists talking down the South African economy. Every time it raises its head, we need to respond.

Believe me, I am no eternal optimist. I spent 16 years working as a financial journalist during the financial crisis and the Zuma years. Those who work with me know that I am difficult, possibly antagonistic and invariably the first person to tell you why your idea won’t work. Financial journalism does that to you.

Since moving out of journalism, I run a consultancy focused on assisting entrepreneurs tackle the twin challenges of Access to Finance and Access to Markets – which is really fun because you get to see a variety of different industries and businesses.

About 3 weeks ago, I was approached by a guy who ran [ironically] an executive coaching business who had found his client pool had dried up and he was looking for some assistance around finding new clients. He bemoaned the state of the local economy and I countered with a couple of success stories of businesses I knew had enjoyed record results in January and were currently expanding.

He became so intent on proving his point that the SA economy was failing that he would send me texts and e-mails of news stories about businesses closing / retrenching or anti-business government policy. In my typical antagonistic style, I would send back details of an SME that had just won a contract or was currently recruiting or expanding.

After a week or so, the messages died down … I presume because he was so busy servicing all the new business he had managed to rustle up over that period (insert sarcasm).

Our January was our best month ever and we even paid our staff small bonuses. We weren’t alone, a number of our clients or other entrepreneurs we know also reported great results in January.

Off the top of my head, here are a couple of success stories I’m aware of:

1.  The Youth Employment Service (YES) created over 32 000 jobs over the last 12 months creating R1.4bn in youth salaries and helping people break into the job market

2.  We are told that nobody is going to invest in the agriculture sector while there is a threat of Expropriation Without Compensation (EWC) and yet there were 36000 more people employed in the agri sector in 2019 (compared to 2018) and there are a number of grants and incentives aimed at this strategic sector from both government and the private sector

3. We hear that SABMiller is retrenching a couple hundred workers, but how many people have looked at the multiplier effect of their various Enterprise and Supplier Development programmes or their other B-BBEE activities?

4.  One SA fintech business we work with reported more business in January than the entire 2019 calendar year.

5.  Charles Savage from EasyEquities reported on Twitter that they had enjoyed a record January with more than 250 000 clients now joining the world of investing – this is a really impressive achievement considering that many consumers don’t have a lot of money to spend / invest.

6.  An auditing firm we do some work with, hired 50 new people in the first four weeks of 2020 – many of them young graduates getting their first foot in the door.

7.  A multi-national industrial company I met last week will be expanding its presence in South Africa moving its headcount from 22 to 50 by year-end.

8.  A women-led consulting firm I know just secured an advisory contract for a R250m multi-national agriculture sector project. Apart from bringing foreign exchange into SA, they are creating new work opportunities for young finance graduates to help run this project.

9.   A South African manufacturing business we are assisting has historically turned over less than R20 000 a month but is on the cusp of signing an international distribution agreement that will be a game-changer for her business.

10. Just this week, a South African chocolate manufacturer had its products trending on Amazon, one of the largest retail platforms in the world.

The list goes on … The point is that none of these entrepreneurs is telling their friends, family and clients why things won’t work.

These are not the stories that make it onto your Facebook or Twitter timelines because sharing good news is not algorithm friendly. If you need a daily reminder that your life sucks, write it on a Post-It and stick it on your mirror.

  • Yes: State-Owned Enterprises are going to retrench – they got robbed blind.
  • Yes: Big retail is going to retrench – it’s been happening across the world for the last decade as traditional business models are disrupted by technology and cheap capital.
  • Yes: South Africa has issues which aren’t going away anytime soon.

Real life is hard. Real life is noisy. Real life is too short to just imagine a world where everything goes wrong.

For those of you old enough to remember that famous Al Pacino speech in the movie Any Given Sunday, Pacino is rallying his team and one of his key lines is:

“The inches we need are everywhere around us. They are in every break of the game every minute, every second.”

We have to push back against negativity at every turn. We have to show that the inches are all around us and we’re actively seeking them out.

It’s not the responsibility of government/ business /labour /media – it’s our personal responsibility.

We can. We will. End of story.

Marc Ashton is a former financial journalist and now runs Decusatio – a South African based consultancy assisting entrepreneurs tackle the twin challenges of Access to Finance and Access to Markets.

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