By Azile Sontlaba
In preparation for the coming investment into SMMEs in the Eastern Cape, the Eastern Cape Business Council, together with the Eastern Cape Socio-economic Consultative Council, hosted the Eastern Cape pre-investment conference of the SMME industry on March 16, at the East London Regent Hotel.
Giving an overview of the SMME industry in the Eastern Cape, Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development Senior Manager Mbulelo Jolingana looked at the current issues that the industry is currently faced with.
Looking at the impact of Covid-19 on SMMEs, including loss of business and employment, a few strategies have been put in place to help the industry recover.
Planning to work closely with the Higher Education and Training institutions and the private sector, the strategies include five strategic principles: digitization, finance, literacy, networking, and public-private community programmes.
ECBC Secretary General Frank Mbalekwa noted the need to formalize businesses in the country and the need for businesses to have licenses.
“To level the playing field, let us not have businesses from other countries that are not registered anywhere. There must be a process for business licensing so that if you come into the country to do business, we know who you are and where you are operating,” Frank stated.
Frank added the key areas that the ECBC is working on which include the government, supply chain of the province, the province’s strong points and the market access.
Speaking on the importance of skills in the provincial economy, Grant Botha from Infomage Rims highlighted the need for more diverse career options and more career readiness progress in the education system.
“When we talk education, we educate and give young people a firm and basic understanding of the principles of academia, unfortunately schools aren’t that good at focusing on post-school opportunities and career planning. We leave it to them to do and we end up with too many pilots, doctors, vets, and not enough boilermakers,” Grant said.
Grant also spoke on the need for re-skilling, doing away with the notion of people working just one industry for the rest of their lives and limiting their opportunities in businesses.
Speaking on creating an innovation friendly environment, ELIDZ Mzilela Mhlari and Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) Teboho Seseng, highlighted the business opportunity that SMMEs do not explore, which is checking the business effect on the environment and providing an innovative solution to those problems. They both noted that the problem in the Eastern Cape is not a lack of innovation, but people leave their innovations in the prototype stage and think the work is done when they should commercialise their businesses.
South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) Dumisani Mngadi said, “SMMEs should familiarize themselves with regulations to protect their brand”, highlighting the need for SMMEs to get certification and accreditations.
Marine standards Sobantu Tilayi highlighted the importance of maritime regulations as many SMME businesses require water and with the importing and exporting of SMME goods, the importance of knowing international commercial laws.
TIA Tshembani Khupane and Sanville Moses from Waymaker Capital focused on building a viable ecosystem of attracting funding, approaching the right people in both the public and private sector.