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One of the most inspiring things I learnt from my recent Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity Tour is that South Africa has an absolute abundance of entrepreneurs waiting for the chance to get their ideas off the ground.
In every community I visited, across all nine provinces, I found many South Africans, young and old, who want to take charge of their own future instead of waiting for government to do it for them.
And the reason why this is so inspiring is because this is where the solution to our biggest challenge – the triple threat of unemployment, poverty and inequality – lies.
When our government says, year after year, that they’re going to create millions of jobs, we have every reason to be sceptical. We’ve heard this promise many times before, and we’re no closer to seeing it materialise. If they could have done this, they would have by now.
The reality is, government can’t create jobs. At best, they can create temporary work opportunities on state projects. But real, sustainable jobs can only be created by the private sector, and particularly by small and medium-sized businesses.
Instead of 5 million new jobs, we need 1 million new entrepreneurs.
What a government can do is create an environment that allows new ventures to get off the ground and flourish. And for starters, this means an economy that grows at around 5 to 7%, as opposed to the 1.4% we’re currently seeing.
Before we can even think of economic growth, we need to ensure that the basic infrastructure to support this growth is in place. This means a dependable supply of affordable electricity, a well-maintained road infrastructure and the roll-out of efficient ICT infrastructure across the country.
Right now, our government is failing in all three these areas.
A DA government would immediately put steps in place to break up the Eskom monopoly, allowing for more independent power producers to contribute to our grid. We would also abandon the ill-conceived nuclear build, which is not only unaffordable, but will also take far too long to complete.
We would prioritise the maintenance of our road network in all provinces, and we would embark on the roll-out of high-speed broadband nation-wide, as we have already started in the Western Cape.
With the infrastructure in place, we would also need to ensure that all the obstacles that prevent businesses from getting off the ground are removed.
The most obvious of these obstacles is the crippling red tape that small and medium enterprises must deal with. The DA government in the Western Cape has already streamlined the administrative process considerably, making it easier to register a business and comply with legislation. We would replicate this across South Africa.
Then we would establish a National Venture Capital Fund so that promising entrepreneurs have access to start-up capital without having to resort to micro-lenders.
We would also establish Opportunity Centres – one-stop facilities where small businesses can conduct their affairs with government, such as registration and support. Along with this, we would introduce Opportunity Cards, which would give small business owners subsidised access to training and business support services.
A DA government would then break up government tenders into smaller contracts so that small and medium-sized companies can also compete for these tenders and get a foot in the door. There is nothing “broad-based” or “empowering” about awarding state contracts to the same large companies, over and over again.
These are all steps that can be implemented right away. All it requires is a government with the vision and the will to do so.
A DA national government would replace the policy-incoherence of our current government with entrepreneur-friendly policies aimed solely at growth and jobs.
We would replace the stifling red tape requirements of the current government with a streamlined process, so that business owners can focus on what they do best: running their business.
We would make it easier to trade across our borders, easier to access international markets and easier for tourists and investors to visit our country.
Because if we can encourage an efficient small business culture as well as create the conditions for a growing economy, we will solve our challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.
South Africa has more than enough hard-working, resourceful people to make this happen. All it needs now is the right government.