Diversification must be a national imperative
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.
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.