Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Lekgotla 2019
Theme: Entrepreneurship through the arts

Young person, look in the mirror, not outside your window for work

If young people in South Africa could look in the mirror more deeply, many would see money-making and employment creating opportunities that are staring them in the face right now. Regrettably, they do not notice those opportunities because they are wired to get a "job," even if that ends up being in the retail market of long hours and a miserly pay hardly enough to sustain decent living. This was the message of Mr GG Alcock, a proven businessman and author of the book "Kasinomic Revolution" to the Entrepreneurship in Higher Education (EDHE) Lekgotla 2019 in Durban yesterday. His audience were students, academics, business representatives and policymakers drawn from universities, education and training colleges, the private sector and government, who are gathered for a four-day Entrepreneurship Lekgotla at the Durban International Convention Centre.

GG Alcock
Raised and home-schooled in a mud hut with no water, electricity or sanitation supply in the poorest area of Msinga in KwaZulu-Natal, Mr Alcock says he never accessed university education because his father could not afford it. “However, I was raised to live and survive in Africa and have made a success of it in the thriving Kasi business.”

The businessman, who was the keynote speaker at this Lekgotla, defined the Kasinomic Revolution as a business revolution happening in the townships; responding massively to South Africa's unemployment problem, with enormous potential to grow bigger with more recognition and support from the formal sector and government.

Mr Alcock cited numerous examples of what he called Kasinomic guerrillas: township dwellers running successful and enduring businesses - some for over 26 years. “Take for instance, this lady,” he says, pointing at a photo of a lady who trades in magwenya (fat cakes) in one of the case studies cited in his book. “She sells 3,000 fat cakes a day at R1 a unit. With polony and coffee, she collects R3,600 daily, making a 50% profit. Yet we feel sorry for them. She and her husband are building a two-storey home in Pimville, Soweto, from the sale of these magwenya. Another lady selling snacks at schools, is making R6,000 a month, and has put her sons through university. The lady with the magwenya business has found another spot to expand to, with this magwenya business. She says her unemployed son will not come and join her because this is not a “job”. The son has chosen to be employed at Edgars for R2,500 a month as a trainee.”

The Msinga-born entrepreneur went on to say the food industry is 100% indigenous business. “Magwenya, a plate of mogodu (a delicacy of cooked tripe served with pap or steamed dumpling) and the township-style burger commonly known as the kota, among other ‘kasi kos’ meals etc, have become a R 87 billion a year sector that continues to grow while the KFCs and other fast food outlets are shrinking.” He gave another example of a man in Soweto who sells 2,400 kotas a day. “His staff peel 80 bags of potatoes a day to make those kotas. He recently bought his new jeep cash.

Kota, also known as spahlo
Magwenya (left) and the kota have become part of the R87m informal fast food industry that should at least be recognised and supported by government and the formal financial services sector.
Photos: Suppplied by GG Alcock

“When we talk unemployment we need to distinguish between formal employment and informal work generating serious money with potential to grow,” said the man who wrote the chappies did you know sayings as he shared other interesting did you knows about more informal economy facts in the muti, Nigerian noodle business and goat sector. He has been a shebeen owner, African adventurer and owner of multiple marketing businesses including Ingwe Communications and Minanawe Marketing which he has recently sold to a French multinational Publicis Communications as part of a R1 billion marketing deal.

Ultimately, Mr Alcock was urging young people to “look in the mirror - not outside your window, for opportunities staring you in your face.” Turning to academics, he challenged them to “think deeply about how we prepare a new Afripolitan generation to make decent livelihoods by looking for Kasinomic opportunities, right on their door steps.”

Coming from humble beginnings himself, GG Alcock grew in a mud hut with no water, electricity or sanitation supply in the poor area of Msinga in KwaZulu-Natal. He says even though he never went to university - as his father could never afford it - he was raised to survive in Africa and has since proven himself a successful entrepreneur - notwithstanding.

By training people for professions that may no longer exist in the next generation, we're feeding them a hoax - Prof Mthembu

Welcoming the delegates to Durban earlier yesterday, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the Durban University of Technology which is hosting the Lekgotla, Prof Thandwa Mthembu, had said it was time universities paused to reflect on whether the structured system of education they were giving young people remained relevant today.

Prof Thandwa Mthembu

Prof Mthembu said even though universities of technology and training and education colleges were proud to say they were already offering world-of-work-type education, “the education and training we give young people in the system, and our approach and philosophy, have hardly changed. We need to re-direct our young people to meet any need that our changing world will be requiring of them in future.”

The USAf Chairperson expressed hope that EDHE Lekgotla 2019 would guide the post-school and education training (PSET) sector “towards gearing our students for that world of the future. We need to think deeply about the curriculum and the lectures we offer. We no more have the luxury of producing critical thinkers only. People are looking to see our contribution to our local economies. We are looking for outcomes and the impact that our graduates could create for the broader society. This Lekgola should empower our academics to not lead students to a dead end but enable them to hit the ground running in the real world.

In conclusion, Prof Mthembu said there was a lot that South Africa’s education system needed to do with teachers, the curriculum and young people in preparing them for the future. “We need to spend the next three days inspired about what the PSET sector of the future should be about.”

On that note, the USAf Chair wished the delegates a happy stay in Durban, and that they would enjoy everything that the city had to offer.

Performances by the  University of KwaZulu-Natal ensemble
a praise singer and poet brought  in by the Durban University
Choreographers showcased arts as the serious industry they have proven themselves to be
Performances by the University of KwaZulu-Natal ensemble (left); a praise singer and poet brought in by the Durban University of Technology and other choreographers (right) showcased arts as the serious industry they have proven themselves to be.

Echoing Prof Mthembu’s sentiments, Professor Ahmed Bawa, Chief Executive Officer at Universities South Africa said universities did not always understand integrating different types of knowledge. “When you start to engage, society is not so much interested in the different disciplines. It does not divide problems into silos. This creates a major challenge to universities to also integrate knowledge.”

He cautioned that entrepreneurship was not an easy journey. “It requires a high level of numeracy, not just for purposes of calculating money but for reasoning and making decisions. It is also about risk-taking and risk management. Having empathy and understanding one’s role in the social context goes a long way. Without empathy, one finds it very difficult to spark off entrepreneurship ideas.”

Prof Bawa mentioned William Sonoma, his favourite chain kitchen store in New York City. “The scale of innovation visible in there is incredible,” he said, citing an avocado processing tool with cutting and slicing functions and a tool to de-pit the fruit without touching it.“What does it take to invent a tool like this? Understanding of what is needed in the kitchen; design skill or a partnership with someone with the requisite skill and good knowledge of materials.” He emphasised that innovation was about partnerships - “working with people with different skills sets to create an ecosystem that will create a solution to a problem.”

Some of the delegates on Day One

“We should be advising our students to reflect on how their research projects can produce new products, new policies, new business methodologies and technologies, etc.,” Prof Ahmed Bawa told the delegates on Day One of the EDHE Lekgotla 2019. “They need to first understand societal problems in order to gear their research towards solving them.”

The USAf CEO said institutions of higher learning needed a similar understanding to become innovative. “Universities need to be part of cities, towns and cultures - to enable their students to understand that they are a part of a system.” He concluded by asking how South Africa, producing about 22,000 peer-reviewed research output - had been unable to translate that research into innovation. “We should be advising our students to reflect on how their research projects can produce new products, new policies, new business methodologies and technologies, etc. They need to ground their research in engagement to first understand societal problems in order to solve them.”

This year's Lekgotla is themed entrepreneurship through the arts. It is beingcurated by Durban University of Technology's Faculty of Arts and Design, with the support of the South African Humanities Deans' Association (SAHUDA). Prof Ahmed Bawa extended a  special vote of gratitude to DUT's Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Professor Sibusiso Moyo, the Dean of Arts and Designs Faculty, Dr Rene Smith and the Deputy Director-General in the Department of Higher Education and Science and Technology, Dr Diane Parker, for contributing to this event's success. Other supporters include but are not limited to the British Council, DUT's Confucius Institute, the Small Enterprises Development Agency (SEDA) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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