Across seven events in 3 days, I met over 1,500 business owners. The biggest, a fourth-generation family business achieving R450m annual revenues. The smallest, a 9-month-old township business growing towards R78 000 annual revenues. A smorgasbord of entrepreneurs, business owners and warriors. All fighting against increasingly tough odds, to simply survive. Many, thriving too.
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I use the word warriors deliberately. All are fighting. And most, as different as they are, are fighting the same things. The threats to their survival offer both opportunities and endings.
Surprise, surprise it’s here. Across airports and events, in meetings and engagements, lets stop shaking hands. Its not an offense, it just makes sense. Elbow taps, toe taps, eye-contact and a nod or even a slight bow, just stop handshakes. Its easier said than done. I managed by keeping things in my hands all the time. without that, it’s involuntary and instinctive making it hard to do.
The opportunity, which I forsee China taking the lead on is with digital engagement and communications. Developing efficiencies around screen conversations so that these are more effective, more impactful, so that we present ourselves better on screen. I think we’re going to see a massive increase in the sale of screens and bandwidth consumption. To compete here, we need to invest in Zoom and skype and whatever tools and apps we need to engage effectively across screens rather than in person.
Businesses are being hit by shakedowns and racketeering.
My colleague, Luvuyo Rani, co-Founder and CEO at Silulo Ulutho Technologies which is an incubator serving township entrepreneurs shared with me that survivalist traders are held ransom by mafia style protection gangs. They are violent and dangerous people. Allegedly, evidence produced and presented to the police has led consistently to inaction, suggesting collusion. The damage is fundamental. The most vulnerable people in society are being abused. They have no voice and fear prevents a community response.
What do you do in such a case? Fight and you risk your life. Go to the authorities and they do nothing. Stop trading and how do you feed yourself? In my view, the community needs to come together, and they do. They protest and from time to time, media responds, highlighting their plight and getting politicians to respond. It stops and then returns. Leave. Stop trading and go elsewhere. There are no other options.
Manufacturers in the outlying areas of urban centres and employing large pools of labour are too being shaken down. This reached a crescendo 2018 and died down after the elections in May 2019. One political party was strongly affiliated with alleged racketeering. I witnessed this with 5 manufactures, all sizable businesses. The shakedowns wanted money to go away. Some paid and continue paying today. Others fought back. Based on the words of our President, in his first SONA address, we live in a country where the rule of law applies, they fought. Listen to their experience.
In a Johannesburg township, an entrepreneur bemoaned the unfair competition from big brand supermarkets. He sold bread, 4,000 loaves a day, but was struggling to compete as they had buying power to compete on price. I suggested he has to compete on points that the supermarkets can’t. He needs to do what they can’t. For example – look at the aged communities who aren’t mobile enough to get to the supermarkets. He can deliver to them, and possibly add fortification or flavour for his older market.
Blame and bitterness build nothing. Right mind and right action do.
In Cape Town, I listened to yet another business owner, now in his 28th year of investment explain how Eskom has destroyed his business. His remedies are few because of injustices bestowed upon businesses by the State. The social contract, implied and suggested, the encouragement asked for by our President, in my view forms a covenant. One in which we invest, yes to feed ourselves but also to create economy for others and we do so on the back of a contract that says, we have rights and we have promises. Our rights, enshrined in the constitution include safety, health, education. The promises are regarding the creation of an environment within which we can make the sacrifices for a reward. Specifically, we will have access to electricity to sustain our businesses. Today we don’t. And there is no recourse or remedy. I recently heard our Minister of Energy quote that ‘if you panic you die’. Time was needed to consider and ponder the facts, weigh them up on the left hand and then on the right hand. Sit back, empty your mind, think, pause and repeat – at least that was the tone of the commentary regarding the resolution of our energy crisis. Easy for a politician to say, someone who eats from taxes, hard for a businesses owner who has risked everything he or she has and needs power now to live tomorrow.
It's not only there, but also in our digital spectrum. A decade down the line and we are nowhere with resolving the spectrum. This stalls investment and opportunity, this in an environment where global research shows the right bandwidth and the right price generates approximately 2% GDP growth within 18-24 months.
Mr President, Thuma Mina… Guqula inkulumo ibe ukuhamba: Turn your talk into walk, or don’t expect us, as small business, to play this waiting game any longer. Sakwanele: Enough is enough.