Di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion must be a na­tional im­per­a­tive

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS - Rob Davies

THE NEED to grow and di­ver­sify our econ­omy should be a na­tional im­per­a­tive. Our eco­nomic growth is slow and the out­look for the near fu­ture re­mains muted. How­ever, our fun­da­men­tals re­main sound and there ex­ists a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment for eco­nomic growth and en­trepreneurs to thrive.

South Africa is a coun­try of end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties, which can be un­locked through am­bi­tion, per­se­ver­ance and hard work.

How­ever, in the morass of neg­a­tive noise around the econ­omy tales of true South African ex­cel­lence of­ten go missed. One such ex­am­ple is the story of United In­dus­trial Ca­bles, which was es­tab­lished by young black in­dus­tri­al­ists, and has been turned into a mul­ti­mil­lion rand estab­lish­ment within three years.

The Ekurhu­leni-based com­pany came into ex­is­tence in 2014, and cur­rently pro­vides ser­vices to Eskom and power util­i­ties in high voltage trans­mis­sion lines. It was founded by a group of young black pro­fes­sion­als with ex­per­tise in ca­ble man­u­fac­tur­ing, fi­nance and project man­age­ment.

Spurred on by their suc­cess they plan on fur­ther in­vest­ing into their ven­ture with the hope of bring­ing about lo­cal­i­sa­tion, trans­for­ma­tion and em­ploy­ment.

What these young South Africans have achieved is re­mark­able, and their suc­cess is sure to mo­ti­vate and in­spire others. How­ever, they achieved it by sim­ply spot­ting a need in the mar­ket and then ap­ply­ing their skills and ex­per­tise to fill it.

This tried and tested for­mula can be repli­cated over and over by mil­lions of in­spired en­trepreneurs through­out South Africa. Our na­tion needs ev­ery bit of in­ven­tion, in­ge­nu­ity and en­trepreneur­ship if we are to roll back the threat posed by poverty, in­equal­ity and un­em­ploy­ment.

These stub­born lega­cies from our past of ex­clu­sion and de­lib­er­ate eco­nomic and so­cial dis­tor­tion are an ever present threat to our democ­racy. De­spite the many ob­vi­ous ad­vances since 1994 we are yet to es­cape the rav­ages of our past.

A black child born to­day is more likely to be born into poverty than a white child. Sim­i­larly the life chances of two chil­dren born on the same day will largely be shaped by their cir­cum­stances, and that of their par­ents.

This con­tin­ued cy­cle of in­equal­ity re­sults in in­ter-gen­er­a­tional poverty, and in­evitably breeds a num­ber of so­cial and so­ci­etal ills.

Twenty-three years into democ­racy this is sim­ply not good enough. Our free­dom is not com­plete while mil­lions of fel­low coun­try­men and women still suf­fer eco­nomic marginal­i­sa­tion.

There­fore we must do more as so­ci­ety and a na­tion to en­sure our fel­low coun­try­men and women are free to chase their dreams through ded­i­ca­tion and hard work.

The gov­ern­ment has laid the frame­work for this through pro­gres­sive eco­nomic and so­cial poli­cies. We are also stead­fast in our be­lief that an in­clu­sive econ­omy is the only way to en­sure pros­per­ity of all in our so­ci­ety.

An in­clu­sive econ­omy will be good for the na­tion, con­trary to what many may think. It will give flight to thou­sands of new ven­tures such as United In­dus­trial Ca­bles.

We will wit­ness the birth of new ideas and in­no­va­tive think­ing by mil­lions of as­pir­ing en­trepreneurs. When our na­tion be­gins to flour­ish a new feel­ing of hope will wash over it.

For­mer Pres­i­dent Man­dela once fa­mously said: “It’s in your hands now”. It is un­doubt­edly within our hands to en­sure that we find ways to un­lock the so­cial and eco­nomic cap­i­tal of all South Africans. In do­ing so we are lay­ing the foun­da­tions for a bet­ter to­mor­row, where all ci­ti­zens of our na­tion stand to ben­e­fit.

Of course, no change ever comes eas­ily, nor does es­cap­ing one’s cir­cum­stance. Lu­mi­nary lead­ers from our past knew that change would have to be all-en­com­pass­ing, and that the big­gest chal­lenge would be to change an un­fair sys­tem.

OR Tambo fa­mously said: “We are not fight­ing against peo­ple, we are fight­ing against a sys­tem.”

At the time he was speak­ing of the need to en­sure a fu­ture where all peo­ple would be in a posi­ton to pros­per due to their hard work and per­se­ver­ance. A fu­ture where your skin colour or present cir­cum­stance would not be­come an im­pos­si­ble ob­sta­cle to over­come.

It is safe to say that many of these ob­sta­cles have been re­duced since 1994, but many still per­sist. Bud­ding en­trepreneurs and busi­ness own­ers still face mas­sive chal­lenges in ac­cess­ing cap­i­tal or mar­kets.

The closed shop na­ture of our econ­omy seeks to keep out new com­peti­tors. There have also been no­table in­stances of col­lu­sion in many ma­jor sec­tors.

Col­lu­sion of­ten also in­cludes the cyn­i­cal prac­tice of ex­ist­ing firms co-op­er­at­ing in a man­ner that excludes new firms en­ter­ing the mar­ket.

Other im­ped­i­ments such as racism or in­grained prej­u­dice are also daily ob­sta­cles for many emerg­ing busi­nesses.

Those who seek to thwart and frus­trate the di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of our econ­omy are, how­ever, on the wrong side of his­tory.

Noth­ing will stop our push for a more open and in­clu­sive econ­omy, which draws on the po­ten­tial en­er­gies of all South Africans, and not just a few.

Rob Davies is Trade and In­dus­try Min­is­ter.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

Min­is­ter Rob Davies hwne he opened a multi-mil­lion rand black in­dus­tri­al­ist fac­tory in Al­ber­ton re­cently. South Africa is a coun­try of end­less op­por­tu­nity, he says.

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