The Department of Small Business Development will once again be supporting the participation of 20 visual artists at this year’s FNB JoburgArtFair. As a media partner to the fair, Creative Feel decided to find out more about the Department and about the woman in charge, Minister Lindiwe Zulu, MP.
Lindiwe Zulu, a member of the South African Parliament, is the Minister of Small Business Development and has been leading this young ministry since its establishment in 2014. Minister Zulu and her team are working hard to achieve the vision ‘of a vibrant culture of entrepreneurship and enterprise growth, where small businesses and co-operatives act as drivers of job creation and inclusive economic benefit.’ Talking to her now, she echoes the same enthusiasm for changing the plight of informal, semi-formal and small business that she did 25 years ago when she returned from exile to ‘make a difference’ in South Africa. By her own admission, Minister Zulu is not a person who sits at her desk and discusses the problems that the South African economy is facing. She is out there, meeting people from all over the country who want to share ideas on how best the support from her department can make all the difference for SMMEs, so as to meet their entrepreneurial endeavours. Minister Zulu is very clear on what is needed to address the development of small businesses.
‘Our work is even more important in South Africa because of our history. Although it was a very short visit, I have visited Germany and have seen very practically what it means when Germany says that small and medium enterprises are the backbone of the economy. I was also in Italy at the beginning of my term and even there I understood what they mean when Italians say most businesses are family owned businesses. In the South African context, a lot of the small to medium enterprises are family owned businesses, but because we have the problem of the black population that is trying to move up from zero and we also have the problem of the youth who are out there with no jobs, it is very clear that had we had the discussion 20 to 30 years ago about small to medium enterprises and support from the government, then we might be having a different type of conversation right now. Unfortunately, it’s only now that we have a real push in small and medium enterprises.
I looked at that and said to myself, if these youngsters are producing this kind of corporate gift, and this is a corporate gift that can be ordered by big companies, it can be good for them because there are potential economies of scale here
‘The other challenges in the South African context are regulation and legislation. Regulation is what makes it difficult for small businesses. From a South African perspective, it needs to be an issue for everyone, not just an issue for the Minister of the Department of Small Business Development. Both within and outside government, including introducing entrepreneurship in schools and colleges because you can’t think that you can have people who don’t even value the money that they have and then think those people will become very good business people. It is very difficult, but it is even more important in the context of our South African history. It is true that there is generally an understanding on the value of small businesses and their importance in growing the economy, bridging the inequality gap and creating jobs. The research that is being done, not just by government, is also very exciting because, without research, facts and figures, you cannot have the right interventions. So, three years down the line, I am very excited that there was this decision to have a ministry and a department that can focus on small to medium enterprises and cooperatives.’
Asked specifically about the Department’s involvement at the FNB JoburgArtFair, the Craft Market in Santa Fe and their collaboration with the Cape Craft and Design Institute (CCDI), Minister Zulu is certain of the importance of supporting artists’ exposure to the general public and of helping them sell their work at market-related prices. ‘I feel very passionate about the Creatives Industries as it is an important sector of the economy but at the same time, it faces many challenges. Firstly, in ensuring that they produce quality goods. Secondly, that the goods can compete not only in the South African market but in the African continent and globally. Thirdly, it is about access to the market; they can produce all these beautiful products but without access to markets it is a problem. It is for this reason that my department plays an active role in facilitating market access opportunities for the craft and visual arts sectors.
I feel very passionate about the Creatives Industries as it is an important sector of the economy but at the same time it faces many challenges
‘The issue or challenge is what we do as government. This firstly creates a conducive environment for the growth and development of small businesses. Secondly, it is through collaborations with other sector organisations like the CCDI, BBCDI and government institutions such as the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and provincial development agencies that we are able to make a more meaningful impact for the creative sectors. In an effort to improve the competitiveness of locally produced crafts, my department collaborated with the SABS to develop a standard for the craft sector so that products can be tested and granted the required quality stamp of approval. ‘Our local products are competing with international products. So when I say I need everybody, each and every person and every department, it is important. The Department of Economic Development can’t have plans with regards to the economic development of the country without considering any development plans and the impact they will have on the small and medium enterprises. The entire economy in itself, if they say is technically in a recession, if they say we have been downgraded to junk status, all of that has a negative impact on small to medium enterprises. Despite all of these challenges, I’m seeing a lot of resilience by SMMEs themselves.
‘All of the SMMEs I visit, I don’t hear them making noise about the junk status; they are looking for solutions. What is more exciting for me is the younger generation. The youth are new in the space and when you talk about junk status and technical recession, it doesn’t sink in the same way as it does with bigger businesses who then go around and make louder noises. ‘Your SMMEs say, “okay this is the situation we are finding ourselves in, what are the solutions, what can we do?” We as government need to step up and that is why for instance in a meeting of all ministers of the economic cluster we tasked ourselves to go and find ways and means of how we can cushion the economy, how we can turn the situation around first and foremost. The next step is to go and think, plan and report back what can be done to help change the situation, but also to have the conversation with the private sector. It pains us sometimes to hear that we are being told the private sector is sitting with a lot of money in South Africa. Now, when you hear that and you understand that this country is coming from a difficult situation, but you also need to understand that those people will only invest if they feel they are going to get the return. It is a chicken and egg situation; if they sit on the money and yet want a return for the money, obviously it means there is going to have to be some risk taken so that somewhere in the next ten to fifteen years the situation might turn around.
Minister Zulu is very clear on what is needed to address the development of small businesses
‘I was at a dinner where all the guests were young people who are in business and I was given a corporate gift from them that was completely locally produced. I looked at that and said to myself, if these youngsters are producing this kind of corporate gift, and this is a corporate gift that can be ordered by big companies, it can be good for them because there are potential economies of scale here. It becomes the responsibility of both government and ourselves to improve on what we call private-public partnerships. The private sector should not just be ticking the box, they should be responding to the real felt needs of SMMEs, which therefore means it’s about them opening up the opportunity in the value chain, so that in whatever way is possible, some of the smaller parts of something come from smaller businesses.’ During the first interaction with Lindiwe Zulu some 25 years ago, she was so passionate about the role that the informal or semi-formal and, ultimately, the regulated small business played in some countries that she had stayed and studied in during her years of exile. Talking to her now, one cannot but feel she will make the difference she promised herself, with the help of some dynamic team members in her department. If you want the job done, give it to a woman.
The Department of Small Business Development ‘strongly recognises the role that artists play in reflecting the various dynamics of our society and creating market access for our artists is a reaffirmation of our commitment to the development and advancement of the creative sector,’ says Elizabeth Thabethe, MP, Deputy Minister of the Department of Small Business Development. Read more in The South African Art Collective.