The words entrepreneurship and youth empowerment have become catch words in the political sphere, business and the public at large. But what is not spoken nor written about is that , ' Is entrepreneurship truly happening or it has become the slogan of politicians".
As an advocate of youth empowerment through entrepreneurship development, I have the following aspects to share. Yes, the word entrepreneurship is abused at every political and academic gathering in the country. In actual fact, the question the ordinary people have to ask is , entrepreneurship development and youth empowerment for who and by who. Entrepreneurship, has been and is still viewed by politicians as a sloganeering and strategy to woo voters and youth into their political parties of the day.
Government departments, development financial Institutions , banks and the academic institutions lack the zeal and drive to really empower the marginalized youth and the rural flock. I have noticed and experienced , widespread talks at gatherings , stories in the media and social media about entrepreneurship and job creation, making access to finance and government buying from newly established businesses the list goes on. All these statements are cheap talk and mere political gymnastics. Creating black Industrialists , should in-fact be renamed and termed creating ,"Rich political pseudo business people". Without political connections , nor aligned to a political figure head. The chances to even get funding from the so-called government financial institutions remain a pipe dream for most youth from the under privileged backgrounds.
Of late the government has adopted , the term , Township and Village industrialization, Digital Economy and youth empowerment the list is endless. Really, these are cosmetic terms to use in wooing poor voters , through disguise of entrepreneurship . What happens in this new phenomenon is that the powerful politicians and rich youth / people are able to start and expand their businesses in the townships and villages.Obviously, the poor communities will remain job seekers and labors who will earn meagre wages.
The financial institutions and government development funding institutions, have aggravated and perpetuated the gross imbalances, by adopting and upholding the colonial policies or funding frameworks. What I mean, is that , youth start up business, are asked to submit contracts, letters of intents from companies to justify market availability as support documents for funding. How can the poor youths have the money to travel to big cities and meet CEOs of big companies for a letter of intent? In the first place the management of government or big companies are seen on appointment, their companies gates are locked and their phones are not available 24/7. This leaves the youth in marginalized circumstances marginalized. What I find difficult to understand is, how do you create a culture of entrepreneurship in a country , whose perceptions, values, and norms do not reward Start-ups. Where do you get a letter of support if you want to start a business in Bloburg, All days, Mashashani , just to name a few places.
What I noted of concern, is the amount of money used by provincial governments , traveling to India, China, Europe and so on to attract investors in the agro-processing, tourism, manufacturing and so on. While Direct Foreign Investment is important in economic development , but truly do we need a Chinese to set up a Tomato processing plant , fruit juice processing plant in NkowaNkowa, Hammanskraal , etc. Instead of traveling to bring the equipment for production , we bring people. What I have noticed and experienced in my years of business incubation, is that the youth remain paupers of employment seeking in a land of haves in this development approach.
We have graduates from Universities with degrees in food technology etc. These graduates need start -up capital without stringent requirements of letters of intent. Where does the youth truly get it, when the industry is so skewed towards the rich . They will never want competition and will not give such letters. Unless, of course your name resembles political heavy waits. After all, does a letter of intent resemble a contract. There is need for policy reviews in the entrepreneurship sphere. Just check, in every Entrepreneurship conference held in the country. Its either in Cape-town, Johannesburg , Durban and towns. This to me translates to urban development tourism centered on the rich youth in these cities. Conferences are held in towns and hotels, the rural youth can not travel to the city because of various reasons which are not subject of this discussion.
The media, focuses on upcoming youth entrepreneurs that are in big towns. They are given platforms from one radio station to the next and TV station to the next. What about the youth in Manguza KZN, Jozini , Musina and so on. Opportunities and exposure for these youth remain scarce. I hope the new SABC broadcasting policy will add value not just by talking but truly exposing opportunities to the rural youth in Bochum etc. I have listened to many stations , and always listened to youth business owners in towns. Yes of course , they would have migrated from rural areas of Limpopo, Eastern Cape, KZN into these big cities for a living. They become entrepreneurs because of circumstances , failure to get a decent job.
You will hear that there is SEDA with so many branches in the country. Just have a helicopter view of where their offices are in urban areas of course. With sporadic outreach programs and business competitions. Big companies would want to be aligned to government institutions for a simple reason compliance with legislations.
Mining houses have so-called corporate social responsibilities and a budget is put in-place. Watch the space who gets what from that budget. Politically aligned individuals, NGOs and groups. Thus , why there is continued unrest in the mining communities. I worked in a province rich with mines and engaged mines in trying to stimulate local entrepreneurship economic hives. I knocked from one mine door to the other, presented brilliant youth centered entrepreneurship initiatives . For the reason that , I am not a political heavy weight nor aligned to one. All those initiatives remain a dream . When the Motsepe foundation went into communities with funds. Who gets those funds? And what are the outcomes? Lets do impact assessment to measure the effectiveness and impact of mining houses' CIS budgets in stimulating local economic development embedded in youth entrepreneurship. What am saying, is South Africa is blessed with resources , but what is needed is to be radical not radical transformation of looting. But radical transformation of our mindset, selfishness, lovelessness and arrogance . Our youth will be truly empowered and rural development becomes a reality.
I had meetings with provincial government managers and local economic development agencies in one of these provinces, in trying to share approaches to youth empowerment. Yes, guess the experience was so sour that , I failed to understand the role of a public servant in a democratic country. Some could not even comprehend the provincial economic development strategy of the province and some asked who am I in the animal farm scenario. In such circumstances , entrepreneurship is headed by people who are not by anyway nearer an entrepreneur themselves. Thus the biblical saying' " how can a blind man lead another blind man".
In conclusion, for youth entrepreneurship to be meaningful and relevant in today's contemporary world. Lets change our strategies and adopt the Paul Ferrera ideology, " Development by the people, for the people and dance to the song , tune and rhythm of the people".( Paraphrased). In so doing we are able to radically transform the people, the structures of today's political elites and the culture of looting in the name of Youth Empowerment. I guess, the youth have already noticed this and they are watching like hawks. Political parties, government ,mines , banks and big business, a paradigm shift is long overdue. Our current President said, "Youth unemployment is a ticking time bomb , ready to explode".