Let me go down memory lane to endeavour to establish a context for this instalment of my weekly Publisher’s Comment. I joined the then Department of Trade and Industry towards the end of 2001. We then deliberately decided to break the public service norm to position the department as a corporate brand – developing a brand architecture that promoted the Department as a mother brand which became an endorser to its subsidiary brands, which were its institutions such as the National Empowerment Fund (NEF); and product brands such as the Black Business Supplier Development Programme (BBSDP). This was intended to redress the poor uptake of the dti service offerings and the reason for which was identified by the findings of the customer perception study as the Department’s low brand equity among our targeted publics.
We then commissioned another study that sought to deconstruct the concept of the “second economy” – which was premised on the “two nations theory” conceptualised and advanced by the then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki on 29 May 1998 at the Opening of the Debate in the National Assembly on “Reconciliation and Nation Building at the National Assembly in Cape Town. He said:
“We therefore make bold to say that South Africa is a country of two nations.
“One of these nations is white, relatively prosperous, regardless of gender or geographic dispersal. It has ready access to a developed economic, physical, educational, communication and other infrastructure.
“This enables it to argue that, except for the persistence of gender discrimination against women, all members of this nation have the possibility to exercise their right to equal opportunity, the development opportunities to which the Constitution of ’93 committed our country.
“The second and larger nation of South Africa is black and poor, with the worst affected being women in the rural areas, the black rural population in general and (people with disabilities).
“This nation lives under conditions of a grossly underdeveloped economic, physical, educational, communication and other infrastructure…”
We then travelled the length and breadth of the country, visiting townships and rural provinces. We launched what we called the dti Train through which we undertook an outreach programme in which we undertook train rides distributing leaflets and organising mass information sessions in major train stations to which entrepreneurs and communities were invited. We augmented these by further reaching communities far detached from the railway lines through the dti Bus. The information sessions encompassed creating awareness of the dti product offerings and training entrepreneurs on how to navigate the regulations to access them. The Department accredited a number of independent service providers who could help entrepreneurs to apply for the incentives.
These initiatives climaxed into a multimedia campaign which we launched in 2004, aptly titled “Uzoyithola kanjani” (how you’ll get it?). Yes, you’ve guessed it right: this was the title of Mandoza’s signature song that crossed-over markets and took South Africa by storm. The campaign’s theme was based on the inspirational and empowering lyrics of songs by famous musicians – local and international. The advertising campaign included Sankomota’s “O phuthile matsogo, o shebile banna ha ba sebetsa” (you’re folding your arms, looking at men working); 50 Cents’ “Make money, die trying”; and, Madonna’s “Sisters are making it”. We also flighted the campaign in taxis through the Comuta Net radio broadcasts and the vehicle branding on many taxis. We established a presence in both the mainstream and community media. The Saturday Star’s Brendan Seery’s “Orchids & Onions” column recognised the campaign with an “Orchid”; and “Loeries” – South Africa’s advertising Oscars – nominated the campaign for an award.
The campaign spread like wildfire and we had to increase our capacity in the dti Contact Centre to deal with the overwhelming number of enquiries that were streaming in. The Enterprise Organisation (TEO) – which has since been repositioned as the Incentive Development and Administration Branch – had to reprioritise their resources to manage the number of applications that they received. We had succeeded in grounding the dti among our targeted local publics which previously thought the Department was created to only service foreign investors. We became people-centred.
By the way, structurally this coincided with the centralisation of the dti and all its family of institutions – except for the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) – into one monstrous campus in Sunnyside which essentially became the one-stop-service centre. A client no longer needed to travel from one section of the city or to another city to access the dti services. For strategic alignment, we established the Council of Trade and Industry Institutions (COTII) – indeed, the centre held.
I was privileged to be given the responsibility to develop the creative narrative upon which all the facades of the architectural designs of the campus were based. And I drew the inspiration from the legend of the 11th century Kingdom of Mapungubwe. This empire had centralised trade in the entire southern Africa – from Namibia in the west to Mozambique in the east, from the Cape south to Zambia in the north. This was the first to trade with China which docked their ship in Sofala and made it to the kingdom situated on the confluence of Shashi river (that divided Zimbabwe from Botswana) as it flowed into the Limpopo river to draw a t-junction, dividing South Africa from Zimbabwe and Botswana. The history of the kingdom also dispelled the later myth inculcated by apartheid that Cecil John Rhodes had discovered mining in Africa as mining and beneficiation thrived then as the citizens of Mapungubwe after they received glass beads from the Chinese, manufactured theirs from gold – and they also produced the sceptre and the rhino from this previous metal. Is it scandalous that while beading is regarded as a critical ingredient of our indigenous traditions, we’re still importing them from Asia and don’t provide much support to Limpopo’s Sarah Masunga who manufactures them – though forced at a small scale.
On Mapungubwe’s disintegration a century later, the community broke into two groups: one migrated to Thulamela in the Kruger National Park and the other to the Great Zimbabwe – with the community later moving to Domboshaba (meaning a trading hill) in the north eastern part of Botswana. To revert to the dti complex, I initially proposed it be named the “Mapungubwe Campus”, but the Presidency’s advice was that this was to steal the thunder from the actual Mapungubwe which had just been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO – so we couldn’t steal the focus from its celebration.
Why this trip down memory lane? I’m trying to argue that, contrary to the impression of my colleague, Hadebe Hadebe in last week’s edition of this news portal, that in South Africa we seem to argue for entrepreneurship development as a purely economic intervention devoid of state involvement (and surrendering it to the market forces), government has developed progressive policies, laws and regulations as tools to drive socio-economic transformation intended to narrow the gap between the two nations I alluded to earlier on. To be honest to Hadebe’s thesis, let me also indicate I’m not substantively responding to it in its entirety.
My experience from the 20 years I spent in the public sector – most of it in the trade and investment environment – tells me government has excelled in terms of developing mechanisms to redress the economic imbalances arising from over 300 years of colonial and apartheid conquest, but there are numerous reasons for its failure to achieve its noble ideals. These range from, inter alia, the structure of the global economic system; macro-environmental challenges; the historical legacy of apartheid’s spatial planning; to challenges such as its inability to attract and retain the requisite capacity to implement its mechanisms.
The bouquet of incentives provided by government ranges from support for research and development which is the core of innovation; manufacturing; to market access – both domestic and foreign. Learning from the Afrikaner capitalism (as eloquently illustrated by Dan O’Meara in his seminal book, “Die Volk Kapitalisme”), the state has to play a meaning role in driving the economic transformation to create the South Africa we’ve yearned for despite the apparent contradictions inherent in our constitutional democracy – for instance, the apex court, the Constitutional Court, has just ruled some provisions of the regulations of the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act (BBBEE) are “invalid and unconstitutional”. This is celebrated as victory by conservative formations such as Sakeliga whose members have benefited from the legacy of apartheid.
For those who are quick to decry our negotiated settlement of 1994 as selling out by citing these challenges, do remember that the developments globally then had forced us to the negotiating table as a tactical necessity: just in a nutshell, the disintegration of the Soviet Union; the unification of Germany; the Nkomati Accord; the resolution of the conflict in Angola with the closure of our guerrilla camps (and their reopening in the distant Uganda) and the withdrawal of the Cuban internationalist forces as preconditions for the liberation of Namibia. These developments basically meant we had no military bases in the frontline states.
Our development finance institutions (DFIs) such as the IDC and NEF do take stakes in bankable entrepreneurial initiatives, but the ecosystem is still inadequate for successful entrepreneurship development. I fault the government for believing that our commercial banks, which are highly conservative, will finance projects which they deem too risky. I’m also aggrieved at government for taking away the option of black entrepreneurs tapping into their pension fund to finance their exit from the world of work into full time entrepreneurship while they know commercial banks – which remain untransformed – will never ever trust us as black entrepreneurs. And I’m unashamedly being personal in this instance. The other difficulty is that we have a small pool of venture and angel investors in this country. These mean chances of capital raising in this country are almost zilch. Most worrying, for me, is the bastardisation and almost criminalisation of the tender system as it is perceived to be tantamount to corruption when it benefits black companies and not the white establishment.
Having said all of these, townships are a huge market. So I’m not worried about the semantics whether you call it township economy (as coined by the Gauteng government as decried by Hadebe Hadebe and Adv Thamsanqa Malinga in his excellent book, “Blame on Apartheid”) or local economic development (as defined in the Integrated Development Plans), this is a spending power we cannot ignore. Enterprise development – particularly the manufacturing element – in our townships is non-existent or lagging behind to tap into this market.
According to Dr Thami Mazwai, a doyen of black business, The situation remains dire. “The race based spatial divisions continued and as markets for the already entrenched… Thabo Mbeki spoke of the two economies in one country and said the developed one must assist the underdeveloped one. But trickle down economics of neo liberalism did not work… For instance, there was no strategy on the shopping malls. Hence the missing middle. Worse still, immigrant entrepreneurs control more than 50% of trade in townships and rural areas.” And he gave his recommendation: “Strategies to trap and grow local spend in the localities and reduce the leakage of money to developed areas.”
Chika Onyeani has articulated this very well in his seminal work, “Capitalist Nigger”. To illustrate Dr Mazwai and Onyeani’s arguments, let’s look at the biggest Mercedes-Benz dealership in South Africa. It is not in Cape Town, Sandton or any posh neighbourhood in the country, it is in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg, owned by Shiraz Auto. Strictly speaking, in terms of apartheid spatial planning, Lenasia is an Indian township. This is the markets which are now targeted by big retailers such as Shoprite-Checkers; Pick n Pay; Mr Price and Pep.
Before I sign off, let me say this has been a difficult week for the provincial government of the Gauteng City Region and the communications fraternity in general with the passing on of Thabo Masebe, the acting Director-General and someone who excelled as a communicator for government – at both provincial and national levels. Here’s a tribute I shared on Facebook:
Although I’m still in a trance, hoping I’m just sleeping and when I wake up I will discover this has just been a nightmare, I keep on reading tributes on social media platforms which confirm that indeed Thabo Masebe has departed our shores. Then I encounter another difficulty: how do I overcome my inadequacies to write something decent as a scribe in paying tribute to a highly gifted communicator I’ve always looked up to?
“Though incomparable, I wonder if this is how Engels felt when he had to write a tribute to Marx. I wonder how long it took him to finally write that timeless epitaph: “A great thinker has ceased to think.” I don’t have Engels’ talent, I’m just a mere mortal, so I can’t come up with anything that I can consider truly appropriate to capture how I feel about this huge loss Thabo’s passing on is to our movement, communications fraternity, the public service and our broader society.
My mind wonders back to our turbulent 1980s in the then northern Transvaal (during my Turf days); into the 1990s, us providing communications support to government in the 2000s, many of us hitting missteps and only visionary ones such as Thabo remaining resolute in steering the ship.
Since I can never formulate nothing worthy to make sense out of this tragedy, let me borrow from Pablo Neruda:
“Death is drawn to sound/ like a slipper without a foot,/ a suit without its wearer,/ comes to knock with a ring,/ stoneless and fingerless,/ comes to shout without a mouth, a tongue,/ without a throat/ Nevertheless its footsteps sound
and its clothes echo,/ hushed like a tree…”
Sincerest condolences to the family, comrades, the movement, government communicators and friends.
We have carried three other tributes written by people who worked closely with him.
Dearest reader, the lifeblood of this news portal, do enjoy your weekend.
Saul Molobi (FCIM)
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