Nafcoc: Unemployed youth a time bomb

Chantelle Benjamin

Speaking at the M&G's 20 Years of Economic Transformation Conferece, Nafcoc said the solution to youth unemployment is the development of SMMEs.

Unemployed youth is a time bomb and the only solution is the development of a SMME champion in the form of a minister to drive the process. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Unemployed youth is a time bomb and the only solution is the development of a SMME champion in the form of a minister to drive the process, said Joe Hlongwane, speaking on behalf of the National African Chamber of Commerce (Nafcoc).

"If we cannot find a way to assist the school-leavers and university graduates and find a way to give them jobs, then you are creating a time bomb," he said.

Speaking at the Mail & Guardian's 20 Years of Economic Transformation Conference in Sandton on Wednesday, Hlongwane said the major problem with black economic empowerment is that "we did not concentrate on building companies from the bottom up, instead we bought into existing big business. There is no focus then on building the BEE sector."

He said legislation as it presently stands did nothing to assist small business. "BEE has not been helpful. Big business just found ways to get around the system."

"The country needs to improve the institutional frame work for SMME development, everything is frustrated by the silo approached by government. State organs are not talking to each other and I believe that this can be solved by the appointment of a SMME ministry.

"There is no champion for SMMEs. It needs a ministry that has its own budget and a minister that understands what needs to be done."

He said the minister should not be someone political but someone who understands and has a passion for SMME, "because they are the backbone of any economy".

Hlongwane, whose views were supported by other panellists, such as Sandile Zungu of Zico Group and Duma Gqubule of KIO Advisory, also raised funding restraints as a factor holding back development of SMMEs. "Funding available to SMMEs are at market rates,and I believe it should be lower. Its not new that SMMEs are finding it difficult to get funding."

He told government, particularly addressing his concern to guest speaker Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, that there was a lack of enforcement around SMMEs.

"Government has good ideas, but no one to follow up to check that what they have implemented has worked."

He said Indonesia had proved the success of driving SMME development. "Of new jobs being created in the country, 60% are coming from from small, medium and macro business."

Taxation could also be reviewed, he said, with small business being exempt from direct tax.

He said growth of SMME sector cannot exist without the assistance of big business. "I believe big business must want to be worried, we need to see small businesses grow and become real competitors. If we don't, then we end up with a situation like we saw in Zimbabwe, where hungry people come up and take it by force."

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