Address by President Nelson Mandela at second National Conference on Small Business, Durban

5 November 1997

Master of Ceremonies;
Distinguished guests,

Many of us met two years ago at the first Conference on Small Business. There we endorsed one of our country's most far-reaching transformations: the rise of the small-business sector in an economy traditionally dominated by large enterprises and big-business interests.

Given the importance of this process I gladly accepted your invitation to a second conference, as an occasion to take stock of progress and find directions for the future.

I might add that I also have a personal interest in being here, and in the government's support services to small business. As 1999 approaches I need to think of my own situation, and it seems to me that my needs might well be met by a small business, indeed a very micro enterprise, perhaps in gardening!

One of the fundamental tasks of this government is to address the legacy of neglect and suppression of black business interests.

Deep as the pains of this denial were, it is not our task today to dwell on the past. But the effects continue and we must deal with them.

By stifling entrepreneurship amongst the majority, apartheid not only robbed many of their livelihoods, but it deprived the entire nation of critical job creators; it robbed itself of a pool of creativity and drive.

In order to develop the Small, Medium and Micro Enterprise sector in South Africa, we need to take into account inherited obstacles. These include: low levels of education and training; barriers to markets; inaccessible finance and lack of support institutions.

Such were the factors identified at the first conference. And now, two and a half years later, we can say with confidence that the foundations for developing the small business sector in South Africa have been laid.

The political climate has been established in which business can thrive without hindrance. Government has ensured that parastatals and government departments make an effort to co-operate with small businesses. Even with insufficient finance and imbalances still to be overcome, many gains have been made. The number of small businesses engaged in exporting is increasing; the sector now contributes one-third of our economic product.

The 1995 conference, with the support of our donors, helped put the small business sector on the national agenda and give it, visibility. As a result, traders, small-scale industrialists, taxi operators and micro-entrepreneurs in every sector have been encouraged to help themselves, to express their opinions and to co-operate.

During the past two years many new institutions have been set up to address the obstacles and give effect to government policy. These new bodies have attracted much attention and indeed many people have asked why their services do not reach all the corners of the country.

That so many people ask this question is a strong indication that our 800,000 small enterprises have found these new services valuable for expansion. It is also an indication that our task is far from complete. In fact we have now reached a crucial phase of our development.

Whatever strategies we adopt and however many institutions we establish, success will depend on what happens at the local level: in rural villages, in the townships and in the business centres of our towns. That is where opportunities present themselves; where services and infrastructure are needed; where entrepreneurs develop their ideas and where we must build a solid base for a thriving economy.

That is the lesson of these past years. That is why this conference is focusing on local government.

Local government must be part and parcel of the small business strategy. Our approach to small business and local economic development must be mutually supportive in each and every city, town and dorp. No one sector can do this alone. Entrepreneurs need government to create infrastructure and a framework of regulations. Government needs entrepreneurs to identify opportunities and implement creative ideas.

A little co-operation between business and local government can result in a lasting relationship that benefits both. It will mean that municipal revenue will increase and it will mean that business will receive more efficient services. Most important of all, it will provide jobs and more opportunities, reduce crime and make communities self-sufficient. It will improve the lives of people where they live.

Working together with other sectors, the broad shoulders of local authorities must bear the responsibilities for providing education and training, simplifying tender procedures, promoting access to finance through the government's national programmes of action, framing by-laws that are fair and conducive to the prosperity of informal and formal businesses.

This conference allows you to share ideas, develop networks and acquire access to information and assistance. But most importantly it provides you the opportunity to entrench the partnership of small business with national and provincial governments; to develop common approaches to problems; to use your vantage point as primary agents of development for the benefit of all the people of South Africa. Let us joint hands, government and the private sector, small business and local authority, to build on the foundation for a better life.

I thank you.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website