TEARS trickled down Ndaba Ntsele’s cheeks last Friday night as he recalled how he had survived from day to day as a young entrepreneur. Today he runs a business worth more than R2bn. He is CEO of Pamodzi Holdings, one of the bigger black economic empowerment (BEE) players.
He was being honoured by the Greater Soweto Business Forum for his achievements, the latest being his election as president of the Black Business Council (BBC). A plea from local business leader Richard Sishuba to tackle the miserable circumstances of township entrepreneurs set the mood for the evening. Sishuba emphasised that the BBC should ensure that government programmes lift township businesses to higher levels. He referred to the hawkers just a few streets away that simply cannot make ends meet. This struck a chord with Ntsele and tears ran down his cheeks as he recalled that he was born two streets away from where the event was held. It was here that his father and other blacks owned businesses, having started them from scratch.
The government of the day decreed Kliptown a coloured area and blacks were moved to Soweto. The Ntsele family went to Orlando West — minus their businesses. But, entrepreneurs that they were, they started new businesses and Ndaba is thus a chip off the old block. This former traffic policeman and township superintendent’s journey started three decades ago when his small business sold odds and ends. Ntsele was also one of the young Soweto business people to learn from township business pioneer Richard Maponya, and he drank deep from his experiences.
Ntsele was in numerous businesses before concentrating on the property sector. He built houses in the new black middle-class areas of Pimville and Diepkloof. He grew from strength to strength as he exploited the opportunities that came his way, succeeding in some and failing in others.
He rightfully argues that enterprise development must be the cornerstone of black economic development. He admits that Pamodzi benefited from the ownership leg of broad-based BEE as it bought into a number of corporations. But, he maintains, enterprise development is the most solid as its graduates have been hardened by reality. This is the route that the BBC will be forging and it will soon announce a major enterprise programme with the Department of Trade and Industry. A number of experts are now hammering this initiative into shape.
Friday night was also an evening in which Soweto business accepted that it holds the key to the area’s socioeconomic revival. For once, there was no reference to what national, provincial or local government is doing or not doing. The expectations in black communities about what the government should be doing for them are frightening. The ruling party is to blame for this as it cultivated this entitlement syndrome. While it made sense in 1994 for the African National Congress, straight from the liberation struggle, to assure the black community that things were going to change, it went overboard and virtually recreated itself as the sole provider of everything, including jobs. Fortunately, the penny is now dropping that this is not possible.
The business people at the function accept that they must take responsibility for job creation. This is, in any case, the only route to take, as we cannot have a situation in which black business is always pleading for this and that, or wanting 10% of this or that company. It is humiliating and shows no pride or foresight. If blacks want to own the economy, it will not be via the 10% apportioned in BEE deals.
In the 1970s, the then president of the National African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sam Motsuenyane, argued that blacks should see themselves as producers of goods and services in order to get a fair slice of the economy. If these sentiments and those echoed on Friday night are replicated in other townships, we could be on the road to prosperity and self-respect. Let the government create the environment, but black people must start businesses to revitalise and grow a competitive economy.
• Mazwai is director of the Centre for Small Business Development at the University of Johannesburg.
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