Richard Maponya’s SA-Brazil training college ‘stuck’ in red tape

Soweto-born business baron Richard Maponya says training young people to be artisans and teaching them to use their hands would help alleviate the unemployment problem in the country.

However his own efforts to set up a training college were “stuck” because of red tape.

South Africa has an unemployment rate of about 25%.

Maponya said he has been trying to set up a training college for young people jointly with the Brazilian government but has struggled to get it off the ground because of red tape.

“The Brazilians sent a team of six people and I took them to the Funda Centre in Soweto, which lies on 21 hectares of land, but the memorandum of understanding got stuck somewhere in the department of higher education and we are still stuck there,” said Maponya.

He said this was three years ago.

Maponya was speaking after receiving a luminary award from the Free Market Foundation yesterday for his entrepreneurial and leadership achievements, particularly building his business despite the unfavourable conditions of the apartheid law system.

He was a teacher in Alexandra township in 1949 when a friend encouraged him to go into business. Maponya started a clothing store and then moved on to open up Dube Hygienic Dairy in Soweto, which delivered milk to Soweto customers who had no access to electricity and refrigeration. He opened up several businesses after that, including a petrol station, a dealership and he also went into breeding horses.

He said if government made it easier for entrepreneurs to start businesses, the country would change overnight.

He said the enabling environment required for a robust, high-growth economy as seen in Nigeria, Ghana, Singapore, Turkey and others is very limited in South Africa.

“Everywhere, it is the small and medium companies that create jobs and growth. Every successful large company started from small beginnings, including global giants such as Anglo American, Discovery, Bidvest, Apple, Google and Microsoft.”

The regulatory environment is too severe, has been formulated by bureaucrats and stifles the entrepreneur. “Government must learn that less is more. We must free the economy, not strangle it,” he said.

Maponya has made it quite clear in the past that he is not a fan of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).

According to Maponya, BEE is not working to create mass entrepreneurship, and should be reviewed and then abandoned in favour of a system that does not reward only the few.

He also criticised the culture of entitlement among young people and said: “The fruits of entrepreneurship take decades and some of our youth want it all today.”

But he does understand the frustration faced by young entrepreneurs trying to raise financing to start their businesses.

He said different types of funding are required to support entrepreneurs at different points of their growth cycle and that venture capital and angel funding was sadly lacking in South Africa, which is the type of funding young companies needed.

“The provision of capital is not the silver bullet, but it is the precursor on which everything else depends,” said Maponya. He also said sometimes big business had forgotten where it came from, and that government needed to play a better role in this regard.

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