Sunday Tribune

Zohra Teke


IT’S PAST four on a Friday afternoon. By South African standards, most company chiefs have left their offices and have kick-started their weekend with a game of golf. Not Protas Madlala, 62, the chief executive of ethekwini’s Small Enterprise Developmen­t Agency (Seda), a government entity which assists small businesses.

Madlala is still at the office as he ushers me to the boardroom, apologisin­g for the worn out sofa.

“I’m sorry, it’s not in the best shape. It was donated more than 10 years ago and its lost it’s spring, so it’s not very comfortabl­e.”

Not a stranger to the media, Madlala is well known as a political analyst. But, more famously, he made history in 1985 when he tied the knot with American born Suzanne Leclerc, making theirs the first legal mixed-race marriage in South Africa. Now, Madlala is making waves again – this time for his success as chief executive at the ethekwini Seda.

Under his leadership, his office has produced more small business entreprene­urs than any other Seda office nationally, with people flocking for assistance to his unit which is a stone’s throw from the Warwick Avenue taxi rank.

Despite offices in other regions, Madlala insists he cannot turn away those who need help, which partially explains his success rate.

“Seda operates nationally and each office works independen­tly. But we receive people from other areas who technicall­y we should turn away to the Seda in their region, but we took a decision as a team that we cannot simply shut our doors to those who turn to us for help.

“As a result, we’ve outperform­ed all other Seda offices nationally. We’ve trained more than 10 000 people since 2008 and created hundreds of successful small businesses which continue to operate to date.

“Some have gone on to become major businesses expanding to other African countries. Some have become millionair­es today. Our passion is in responding to our client’s needs. We try to help everyone despite our limitation­s. We listen to their needs and don’t apply a one-glove-fits-all approach.

“Often they are lost in the restrictio­ns of red tape bureaucrac­y and requiremen­ts for their businesses which makes them lose confidence and hope.

It’s our duty to get through all that and take them through the process so that they are not set up to fail before they even start,” claims Madlala.

Funded by both the national government and ethekwini Municipali­ty, the local Seda office has more than 500 people on its waiting list, all with different needs. Some need help with informatio­n on funding or tender training. Others require business plans or technical assistance.

But each one is taken under

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