Toward an entrepreneurial South Africa

Phumlani Majozi reflects on the recent Youth Entrepreneurship Expo at Wits University

I try to attend as many conferences as I can. Attending conferences is one of the things that help me grow professionally. In some of these conferences, I am a speaker, and in some, an attendee. Conferences help me expand my network and I get to learn a lot.

Last week's conference, the Youth Entrepreneurship Expo at Wits University, organized by Young African Entrepreneurs Institute, was one of the most important conferences I have attended in recent times.

In this Expo, I was tasked to facilitate a discussion on access to funding for South Africa’s emerging entrepreneurs.

It was a great honour to speak to people who drive business lending in the country. To understand the fundamental challenges they face as lenders, and as people who work closely with entrepreneurs. The discussion also enlightened me on the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in South Africa.

My takeaway from the conference was that South Africa’s fundamental challenge on entrepreneurship is not money

The challenges are at the foundation of our society: entrepreneurial education, financial discipline, innovation, culture. These are the fundamentals that if we were to get them right, our country would be set on a prosperous course.

Mr. Mxolisi Matshamba, the CEO of Small Enterprise Finance Agency (SEFA), understands the above weak foundations very well.

During his keynote address, Matshamba said that at one point his SEFA, received about two and a half thousands of applications for funding from entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs across South Africa. Only less than 100 were fully completed applications. This was before the applications were assessed to determine the entrepreneurs that qualified for funding.

In my opinion, this is a catastrophe and something that we seriously need to reflect upon as a nation and attempt to address.

It all starts at strengthening the foundations. In my observation, politicians tend to think that problems like this can be resolved by more money, which is not true.

One of my panelists, Vhahangwele Manavhela of Aequalitas Capital Partners, made a very important point. She advised that financial discipline is key if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur. A message that every young South African entrepreneur must hear.

Innovation is also key. An innovative society will rapidly elevate itself out of poverty. With strong institutions that advance the interests of the people, fast paced strides on innovation can be made in a very short period in South Africa.

This is a country with huge potential. It’s got a young population, and better institutions in comparison to other African countries.

For entrepreneurs to thrive and succeed, we need also a macro-economic environment that fuels and boosts entrepreneurship.

Early this year, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed business executive Sipho Nkosi, to lead the drive for the reduction of regulations in South Africa’s economy.

I have supported Ramaphosa’s appointment of Nkosi and have called for Nkosi to give the country feedback on the number of regulations he’s reduced later in the year. The nation deserves to know, especially if the President is serious about reducing regulations in the economy.

Government can play a positive role in what I have written above. However, the major responsibility lies with private citizens. The Young African Entrepreneurs Institute has taken responsibility to effect positive change in the country.

I have criticized South Africa's policymakers a lot over the years. But, in my criticism, I have repeatedly said that all the challenges faced by this country can be reversed; with people's determination and leaders who understand that business growth must drive human development.

The foundations critical for robust entrepreneurship can be strengthened in South Africa. The Youth Expo at Wits reminded me of this truth.

Phumlani M. Majozi is a senior fellow at African Liberty. His website is phumlanimajozi.com. Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi.