The Portfolio Committee on Small Business Development convened virtually to deliberate on its planned visit to the affected areas in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng as a result of the recent destructions and looting that had taken place in the past week. The Committee Secretary outlined the logistics of the site visits to those two provinces.
In KwaZulu-Natal, two district municipalities, uMgungundlovu District and King Cetshwayo District Municipalities, and one metropolitan, eThekwini Municipality, were identified for Committee oversight visits. In uMgungundlovu, the plan was to visit Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas. As there are a number of small businesses affected by the unrest, Members would not be able to physically visit every place that had been damaged in the unrest but rather select one or two affected places for the visit. In Gauteng, the Committee had identified two metros, City of Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality and the City of Johannesburg, for site visits. Committee Secretary said that Members could decide if they would like to visit the City of Tshwane as well.
During the deliberation, Members enquired about the impact of COVID-19 emergency plan in KwaZulu-Natal on the Committee’s visit to those affected areas as well as the issue on relief fund recipients in which 75% of beneficiaries were white-owned businesses while black business made up the remaining 25%.
Members emphasised the importance of directly engaging with business owners who had been adversely affected by the unrest and reaching out to small business owners and associations such as South African Informal Traders Association. Members agreed that they should be well-prepared for the visit and be ready to offer solutions instead of merely listening to affected business owners. Members also highlighted the role that big businesses could play in leading small business development.
Some Members expressed their frustration at the non-attendance of the Minister and Deputy Minister at this very important meeting. As a result, two Members clashed on the terms which Members described the non-attendance and Department officials.
There was also differing views on whether or not the delegation team should be split into two groups to save time and for efficiency. The Committee eventually resolved to not split but conduct the visits as a collective, as splitting would disadvantage parties who had only one party representative in the Committee.
The Chairperson opened the virtual meeting, welcoming the Members, Committee support staff and the delegates from the Department of Small Business Development (DSBD). The Committee Secretary reported that the Committee had received an apology from the Deputy Minister of Small Business Development, Ms Rosemary Capa. She could not attend the meeting due to a prior commitment. The Committee also had received an apology from Mr E Myeni (ANC).
Ms Humbelani Tshikalange, Chief of Staff, Department of Small Business Development, informed the Committee that the Department had visited malls in Alexandra, such as Jabulani Mall. In many instances, the situation on the ground was very bad, with most malls having been burnt down. There were still many other destruction incidents, for which the Department would have to go and assess the damage. The Department’s Director-General would then be able to report back to the Committee on the assessment of the damage in due course.
The Chairperson thanked Ms Tshikalange and indicated that the agenda of the meeting was to formalise the logistic part of the Committee’s oversight visit to those affected areas in Gauteng and in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). She felt that the Committee needed to go visit those affected areas because other Portfolio Committees had been there already. She emphasised the importance for Committee Members to provide comfort and support to small businesses in the affected areas. She hoped that the visit would result in some recommendations so that the Committee could better assist those affected businesses in those areas.
The Chairperson invited the Committee Secretary to provide Members with an outline of the key logistical arrangements for their visit.
Committee Oversight Programme Design
The Committee Secretary outlined the programme design for the Committee’s visit to the areas affected by the unrest. Members needed to decide on the number of days that they would need to spend on the visit as well as whether to commence the visit on the upcoming Tuesday or Wednesday. The visit was planned using the District Development Model (DDM), which relied on local government as the entry point to make contact with affected areas. The main affected areas were in KZN and Gauteng provinces.
In KZN, two district municipalities, uMgungundlovu District and King Cetshwayo District Municipalities, and one metropolitan, eThekwini Municipality, were identified for Committee oversight visits. In uMgungundlovu, the plan was to visit Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas. As there are a number of small businesses affected by the unrest, Members would not be able to physically visit every place that had been damaged in the unrest but rather select one or two affected places for the visit. The Committee had requested a comprehensive list of those affected businesses from uMgungundlovu, and the local chamber had also been invited to this visit. The purpose of the visits is to conduct assessments. For eThekwini, the surrounding areas and the Durban Chamber had also been contacted by the Committee. The Committee also requested the chamber to compile a comprehensive report on the affected businesses for members’ visit. At King Cetshwayo, the Committee would be prioritising City of uMhlathuze Local Municipality, which consisted of two towns Empangeni and Richards Bay, and select two or three sites of affected small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) that Members could visit.
In Gauteng, the Committee had identified two metros, City of Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality and the City of Johannesburg, for site visits. Committee Secretary said that Members could decide if they would like to visit the City of Tshwane as well. In Ekurhuleni, Vosloorus and Tembisa were identified as the visiting sites whereas in Joburg-bases Members could visit central Joburg, Soweto and Alexander. The same process of working with the local government applied to the oversight visit. Committee Secretary had contacted Ekurhuleni and the programme might last for two days.
In essence, Members needed to decide on number of SMMEs to visit as well as when to commence the visit whether on Tuesday or on Wednesday.
The Chairperson opened the floor to Members for their inputs.
Mr H Kruger (DA) expressed his concern on whether the emergency plan for COVID-19 currently being rolled out by government in KwaZulu-Natal would affect the Committee’s oversight visit to the area.
Mr Kruger proposed to split the delegation team in two groups so that half of them could visit affected areas in KwaZulu-Natal and the other half to Gauteng in order to save time and increase efficiency. He said that, by doing so, the Committee would be able to cover more places in a two or three-day visit.
Mr J De Villiers (DA) supported the oversight visit idea and endorsed his colleague’s suggestion to split the team into two groups, as it would be more effective.
Mr De Villiers requested that the Committee should be focusing mainly on setting up meetings with small business owners and entrepreneurs and then talking to them directly. Committee Members need to ask those affected business owners what kind of assistance that they would need from the government so that Members can assist them. He highlighted that the core mission of the visit was for the Committee to help affected businesses recover from the damage they suffered and rebuild their businesses.
Mr H April (ANC) expressed his concern on the suggestion that had been put forward by the two previous speakers. He was of the view that a split would be disadvantageous to the minority parties that perhaps only had one Member representing their political party. He recommended to go as a collective and spend two days in Gauteng and two days in KwaZulu-Natal. He emphasised the importance of engaging with people and constituencies on the ground to hear what they wanted as well as for the Members to show the people that they represented that this was a caring government.
Mr D Mthenjane (EFF) acknowledged that all looting and rioting incidents greatly saddened the entire nation. He pointed out that the unrest that the nation witnessed was a result of the infighting within the governing party, the ANC. He also expressed frustration that neither the Minister nor the Deputy Minister was available at the meeting.
Mr Mthenjane also stated that this Committee should have been the first to go to the affected areas. He agreed with the suggestion that had been put forward by Mr De Villiers and Mr Kruger – to split the delegation group for the sake of effectiveness, so that more areas could be visited within a short period of time.
Mr Mthenjane warned the Department and its officials that Members were watching them, so that they should not take their chances to loot.
Mr April raised a point of order. He did not think it fair that Mr Mthenjane should cast aspersions on the Department or on anyone else, as this was not the point of the meeting. He criticised Mr Mthenjane for not willing to switch on his camera, reckoning that he was probably lying under a blanket. He further said that Mr Mthenjane’s remark to call the Department thieves was incorrect.
The Chairperson asked Mr Mthenjane to stick to the meeting agenda and discuss the other issues he had raised for a separate meeting. She requested that Mr Mthenjane respond to the questions relating to whether or not the Committee to go visit KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
Mr Mthenjane also raised a point of order in response to Mr April’s remark that he was laying under a blanket, as it was also a form of casting aspersions.
The Chairperson indicated that the rule of the Committee was that Members must conduct their discussions in a respectful manner and thus asked Mr April to retract his statement.
Mr April retracted his statement.
Mr Mthenjane maintained that his remarks were justified because Members were elected representatives of people and were free to make speeches in Parliament. He agreed that Committee should go to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng to see the affected areas.
Ms B Mathulelwa (EFF) began by speaking in her mother tongue.
Mr Kruger interjected and asked the Chairperson to ask Ms Mathulelwa to speak in English. He explained that, although he supported and acknowledged everyone’s right to speak in their mother tongue, Parliament must have a translator available to Members. As it stood, this service was never available to the Committee. He asked the Member to speak in English so that all Members could understand what she was saying and make meaningful discussions on the point that she raised.
The Chairperson agreed with Mr Kruger’s point and asked Ms Mathulelwa to try speak in English so that Members could all understand each other.
Mr V Zungula (ATM) interrupted and asked to come in. He commented that the Chairperson did not have the right to direct Ms Mathulelwa to speak in English.
The Chairperson explained that the point was for everyone to understand each other, as translation service was not available. It was not an instruction but rather a request for Members to work together so that every Member understands the view.
Ms Mathulelwa raised a point of order and responded in Xhosa. She asked: which language am I expected to speak in?
The Chairperson responded that Mr Kruger was making a request. If Ms Mathulelwa did not wish to accommodate that request, it was also within her right to do so. She may continue in whatever language that she chose to speak.
Ms Mathulelwa gave her input in Xhosa. She expressed that she supported the suggestion for the Committee to conduct oversight visits in both provinces. She also supported the idea of Members splitting across the two provinces for better efficiency.
Ms Mathulelwa reckoned that this Department has never developed any small business in South Africa, ever since it was established. The oversight visits are thus urgent because, as Members, they want to speedily go and assist the affected businesses by bringing them to the attention of the Department, in order for it to develop them.
She expressed that it was unacceptable that the Minister has not made any effort to appear before this Committee, whereas she had never missed any Presidency meeting. She did not want to pretend as if it was not disheartening for the Minister to keep disregarding this Committee. It does not sit well with her. She submitted that the claims made by her fellow EFF Member about the ANC were not aspersions because the party did not approve of the box-ticking exercise that comes with these oversight visits – that the Committee is only interested in showing face instead of effecting real change towards helping the constituents who are in need. The Committee does not even have a clear plan on what exactly it would reach out and find the affected small business on the ground; the talk is only limited to visiting malls, which excludes small businesses that are not based in the malls.
The Chairperson was uncertain whether Ms Mathulelwa had been on the virtual platform when the Committee Secretary had tabled the proposed visit. She reiterated that the visit would not be going to big malls but rather engaging with small business owners who had been affected by the unrest. The Committee would be relying on the District Development Model and be guided by local government to do its site visits. A list of small businesses would be provided to Members in due course.
The Chairperson asked Members if they would like to split the delegation team or go together as a collective.
Mr F Jacobs (ANC) expressed his agreement with other Members’ inputs and agreed that the Committee should be spending two days in Gauteng and the other two days in KwaZulu-Natal. He noted and appreciated that Members’ programmes were guided by government officials and suggested to engage with South African Informal Traders’ Association as well. He emphasised that it was important to speak to informal traders.
He appealed to Members of the Committee to put their political differences aside and work together to deal with the crisis that the country faced. He agreed with the President’s remark on a social contract that parliamentarians, informal traders and all other involved should work together to find a way forward.
Mr Jacobs also said that Members should not be surprised once they arrived at their visiting sites, as Members were well aware of the catastrophe. He highlighted that the more important issue besides the sentimentality is practical steps that the country could take to assist those affected business owners and to rebuild the economy.
Mr Jacobs did not support the suggestion that the Committee should be splitting; he suggested that the Committee should rather take its time and go as a collective. He urged everyone to contribute to the rebuild of the economy and highlighted the role of big businesses in the process of township and rural development. The crucial point that government should be thinking about is how government could work with big businesses and make small businesses everyone’s business so that more people, especially young people, are participating in the economy.
Mr Jacobs said Members that must also be well-prepared when they go for their visit so that they could give solutions instead of merely listening to their constituents.
Mr Zungula emphasised the importance to engage with businesses directly. He suggested that the Parliament support staff should publicise the Committee’s visit to those affected areas so that members of the public would be able to go to those Committee Members and talk to them directly about the damage that their businesses had suffered. Although Members understood the situation, only those affected could better inform the Members on what kind of help they would require from the government to help them rebuild their businesses.
Mr Zungula also objected to the suggestion to split the delegation group because it would disadvantage some of the smaller parties that only have one Member. He cannot see why Members cannot spend two days in Gauteng and the other two days in KwaZulu-Natal.
Mr Zungula emphasised the importance to find a way of directing government to prioritise small black owned businesses. According to the Minister, 75% of the relief fund had been reimbursed to support white-owned businesses. He found it unacceptable and requested the support staff to explain why black-owned businesses only had received 25% of the relief fund last year. He wanted to know whether the causes of that was because of a lack of awareness among black business owners or those black business owners were not capacitated in terms of submitting their applications.
Closing remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson concluded that, having listened attentively to all Members, she acknowledged that small businesses had been badly affected by the unrest. Where other committees had already conducted oversight to those sites, she believed that this Committee should zero in on the issue of empowerment and focus on helping those small businesses get back on their feet.
The Chairperson also noted Members’ complaint on the absence of the Minister.
She agreed with Mr Zungula’s view, on the need to communicate with affected victims directly. She said that Members must go there and listen to how many were affected in those two provinces and what measures were in place to resolve those issues. As for the 75% issue that Mr Zungula raised, she recommended that he should write to the Department and have a discussion with it on the matter in a separate meeting. The Chairperson highlighted that this oversight visit should be to assess the damage as a result of looting and burning of businesses.
The Chairperson applauded government’s easing of registration on business license fees. She called the previous application process the biggest red tape, as some people cannot show cash flow to renew their licenses as a result of being out of work. She was happy that people can now get licenses for free and the validity period has been extended to 18 months.
The Committee Secretary requested Members to forward their residences to the Committee WhatsApp group so that logistic issue could be sorted for those that did not reside in Cape Town.
Committee Secretary also suggested inviting other important stakeholders such as constituency officers, as well as any SMMEs that had been affected directly, to the visit.
The Chairperson reminded Members that COVID-19 regulations would need to be adhered to since the country was still under Adjusted Level Four. She thanked the Members, support staff and guests for attending the meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
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