South Africa’s highly-anticipated first small business development minister Lindiwe Zulu carries the hopes of millions of small business owners on her shoulders, after President Jacob Zuma appointed her to this new ministry as part of his second-term cabinet.
Zulu, a former special adviser to the president for international relations, who has admitted to not having much experience in the small business sector, says she plans to focus on making conditions more conducive for the growth of small business owners.
It was unclear how she planned to do this as she was still in the process of setting up the small business ministry when Small Business Connect spoke to her three days after her appointment.
Media reports and social media comments were full of requests from business owners and business organisations appealing to her for assistance in reducing regulatory burdens that they believe are hindering growth in the sector.
Zulu stressed that she would draw on the experience of her deputy minister Elizabeth Thabethe as well as programmes, policies and studies conducted by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of economic development, which were the previous custodians of small business.
Thabethe is also the former DTI deputy minister.
“I won’t be starting from scratch. I want to look at the challenges that the current programmes and policies face and the results of the studies so that we can address (these problems).
“I have to sit down with the other departments and we have to move everything that has to do with small businesses to the new ministry.
However, these departments will still play a role in the small business sector,” Zulu said, reluctant to elaborate further as the ministry was still in the process of being set up.
She says she also plans to listen to what small business owners are saying.
“The reason government is setting up this department is because small business owners were calling for it. They have been saying they need special attention and government recognised that small businesses play an important role in the economy and job creation. I have already taken calls from a few small business owners in the last few days,” says Zulu.
She believes that her past travels through Africa will assist her in her current position.
“My experience while travelling to different African countries is that these small business owners are able to operate without as much assistance as our small businesses and they still perform better and grow faster,” she said. Zulu believes that this is due to small business owners not being able to compete with big retailers in South Africa.
In general the response to the creation of the new ministry has been positive. The South African Chamber of Commerce (Sacci) welcomed the appointment of the minister which they say was high on their wish-list, but added that they are concerned about recent official statements which they termed “interventionist”.
A statement released by Sacci advised that it would “engage a department that serves the development interests of small business and the economy.
This would include simplifying the regulatory environment, reviewing and expanding incentives and championing the cause of small businesses with other government departments and the Presidency vice versa policy development.”
The ministry was also welcomed by the South African Small Medium Enterprises Foundation who released a statement saying that it looked forward to co-operating with and assisting the minister in setting up the department as soon as possible.
- Read the opinion of Matsi Modise, the national executive director of the South African Black Entrepreneurs Forum on the new ministry.