UK knowhow aids SA rebirth

October 25, 2002

In the townships and deprived rural areas of South Africa, hope of economic regeneration lies with the multitude of small businesses that have sprung up in the years since the end of apartheid.

But these "informal entrepreneurs" are cut off from formal banking facilities, are barely recognised by the government and lack the business skills to survive in a harsh economic climate.

A project spanning higher education institutions in the UK and South Africa, primed with a £6 million European Union grant, aims to meet their needs.

Since 1999, four technikons have joined forces with the universities of Greenwich and Coventry, as part of the Technical and Business Education Initiative in South Africa (Tabeisa), to build an entrepreneurial culture in the communities where it is needed most. Drop-in enterprise centres have been set up in areas designated by the government to build commercial and industrial development.

Jane Conlon, director of the project at Coventry, said: "Unemployment levels are so high that, for a lot of people, small-business development is the only way out.

"There is a real hunger for entrepreneurial training and skills."

Thirty-five academics from the four technikons are enrolled on an MA in entrepreneurship, designed to enable them to enthuse their students and to give practical guidance through the enterprise centres. Scheme organisers hope that the numbers on the MA will increase over the next year.

The academics are also working with small businesses in the townships to improve business skills.

Ghana Matolengwe, a lecturer in the commercial education department at Eastern Cape Technikon, has been advising a redundant steel-maker from Johannesburg, who has moved to one of the poorest provinces of South Africa, to set up a business making burglarproof gates. But despite his skills, there were problems because of his lack of knowledge of business methods.

He said: "We have assessed the business and identified certain problem areas. I hope we will be able to carry on in an advisory capacity."

So far, 80 businesses have been established as a result of the programme. George Lenyai, vice-chancellor of Technikon Northern Gauteng, said: "With assistance from the enterprise centre, quite a lot [of small businesses] have turned round and are producing very healthy turnovers."

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