President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday lauded the “ingenuity” and “resilience” displayed by young South African entrepreneurs as they continued to find new ways to trade during the country’s coronavirus lockdown, and urged other youths to consider employment as an option to joblessness.
The extended – albeit incrementally relaxed – lockdown has devastated the country’s already ailing and shrinking economy, with the president himself confirming last week that about three million jobs had been lost as a result thereof.
Small businesses have been particularly severely affected by the lockdown and the re-introduced national curfew and reinstatement on the ban on the sale of booze. Thousands of small businesses countrywide have had to close shop and retrench staff because they did not have the means to survive an extended lockdown, and were unable to access taxpayer sponsored relief.
“As a number of social partners, including government, business, trade unions, community based organisations, economists and political parties, are involved in crafting a new vision for a post-Covid-19 dispensation, a new breed of young entrepreneurs are seizing the opportunities that are opening up as we seek to deal with a new normal in our lives,” said the president via his weekly Monday morning newsletter.
“The coronavirus is a dark cloud that is hanging over the lives of South Africans and the economic fortunes of our country. South Africa is not alone. Many countries are experiencing harsh economic challenges. Like many countries, we have responded through an economic and social assistance package, worth R500 billion. But we also know that we need to evolve a clear vision and strategic plan that will help us chart our way beyond the impact of Covid-19.”
The president said there was a “silver lining” to the coronavirus cloud that included a number of opportunities that some citizens were actively searching for.
He said that a combination of “foresight, creativity and business acumen” had led a number of young South African to coming up with “home-grown solutions to the contemporary challenges we face”.
“Some have started small business ventures because of personal circumstances, like losing their jobs. Others who were previously unemployed have seized the opportunity provided by the pandemic to create their own income.”
Ramaphosa gave several examples of “innovative” young entrepreneurs that had repurposed their businesses to meet demands brought on by the pandemic, such as manufacturing personal protective equipment (PPE). He also lauded artists and musicians who had “taken their talents online, resulting in new business opportunities”.
The creative and enterprising spirit of those finding alternatives during the pandemic should be “harnessed and supported”, he said.
“Even in our darkest hour, we must look to these green shoots of renewal. They are the silver lining to the dark Covid-19 cloud. Our economic recovery cannot wait until the coronavirus pandemic is over. It needs to start now.”
The president said that township and rural-based businesses had “come into their own” during the lockdown because of restrictions on travel and movement, a demonstration of their resilience.
“We have seen in this pandemic how dependent urban areas are on informal food systems, and how important the informal sector is to livelihoods across the country. We have seen the grave inequalities in access to health care, to savings and even to information and connectivity.
“To enable these businesses to thrive we must tackle the barriers to entrepreneurship.”
He said township and rural economies had to be actively built, and that efforts to establish a “new economy” out of the pandemic should include conditions that would enable the thriving of individuals, and societal support.
“Small businesses present the greatest growth opportunity for our economy and are a major source of job creation. In such challenging times, when many have lost their jobs and the unemployed have found it even harder to eke out an existence, we must act with renewed urgency to support these businesses.
“When it comes to the township and rural economy, this means providing access to finance for entrepreneurs and the self-employed. We have made great progress in extending support to 1,000 youth-owned businesses since the State of the Nation Address in February. We will reach this target by International Youth Day on 12 August, despite the delays caused by the lockdown.”
He urged young South Africans to “take the great leap of faith into self-employment. The best businesses come from good ideas that respond to a community need”.
“I call on young people, especially in townships, to take advantage of the opportunities on offer to guide them along the path towards entrepreneurship.
“The conditions may not be ideal. The circumstances may not be perfect. But now is as good a time as ever to start. And you can be assured of our full support.”