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#Elections2019: What small businesses really want in return for their vote

JOHANNESBURG – For some time, political parties have been crisscrossing the entire country campaigning to lure and convince South Africans to vote for them.

As with any election, the parties make loud, clear and passionate promises as they pack out sports stadiums and other venues.

Life will be better once they are in power, or if you keep them in power, blah, blah, blah. It’s common political rhetoric in any country.

Yet, there is always some sort of a pain-point for specific voter sections, such as in the entrepreneurial space, which political parties or candidates must address.

South Africa holds its national and provincial elections tomorrow, and this promises to be the most contested since the dawn of democracy.

Dozens of African countries are also scheduled to hold elections this year. Nigeria held theirs just a few months ago – though it was dramatically postponed by a week just a few hours before voting was set to begin.

Fortunately, from what I can see, South Africa’s electoral commission is up to the task in terms of delivering free and fair elections.

Having perused the manifestos of the three major parties, the ANC, the DA, and the EFF, I believe that the party that can really help create jobs (not just pay lip service) and offer small business support, should have your vote – also considering the massive amount of youth unemployment.

In November last year, we interviewed more than 4 000 start-ups, small businesses and people within the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

They shared many pointers on which political parties should focus to win their votes. Here are a few key ones:

  • Support for the development of small businesses: although they praised the ANC government for the support they have provided over the years with programmes at the Department of Trade and Industry and the introduction of the Department of Small Business Development five years ago, they believed that support still lagged behind, especially when it came to developing quality programmes and support structures. These include financial support, such as early-stage seed grants, affordable work facilities, mentors and access to markets. Start-ups also stressed the amount of time it takes to secure capital from various Development Financial Institutions (DFIs) and the lack of support for township entrepreneurs.
  • Skills development: ensure that universities focus on providing young people with the relevant future skills to meet the demand in the job market.

Sound policies for economic development: South Africa prides itself on having some of the best policies on the continent but implementing these remains a major problem. Our survey revealed that the entrepreneurship ecosystem hopes that the next government will focus more on implementing policies that will create jobs. For example, making it easy to obtain tourist visas to boost the tourism industry, developing competition clauses that will help small businesses to compete with big ones and impose stiff penalties for anti-competitive behaviour, as well as creating policies that force big businesses to support small businesses.

  • Land redistribution: this has been a seriously hot campaigning topic for most parties. The entrepreneurship ecosystem hopes that the land redistribution issue should be accelerated, and more young black people should be trained and equipped with the skills and capital to till the land, ensure food security, create jobs and boost the economy via export initiatives.
  • Tax incentives and prompt invoice payments: the government should offer small businesses tax reduction and relief. Small businesses also do not understand the 30-day rule payment. They prefer that payment is made within seven days of delivery.
  • Peoplecentric: political parties need to be more people/citizen-focused than overly party-focused. This includes being inclusive, transformative, results-driven and selecting the best leaders in all key positions, while shunning cadre deployment.

Our survey also revealed that most have great faith in President Cyril Ramaphosa and his “new dawn”. This could be due to his history of business success and his passion for supporting small businesses, such as the Shanduka Black Umbrellas incubator (now called the Black Umbrellas), which he founded.

Small business support was also a key topic in all his addresses along the campaign trail, so there is no doubt that this sector will be a priority in his mandate if he’s elected head of state.

From the 3 000 respondents, more than 60 percent seemed to be aligned with the ANC, 18 percent with the DA and 8.5 percent with the EFF, while 13.5 percent were spread across various other political parties.

We all know that polls do change constantly, however, it seems the pecking order of the top three will remain basically as is.

Whoever wins, it is vital that small business support forms a critical part of their mandate. Of key importance is ensuring that officials (private and public sector) placed to support them understand their mandate and deliver on this.

Happy voting.

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa; 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest start-up campus. The views expressed here are his own.

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