Small businesses have their say

The Athlone, Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain chapters of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry hosted members of the Mayoral Committee of the City of Cape Town on Tuesday November 22.

The event, which was held at the Athlone Stadium conference room – called City meets Cape Flats Business Symposium – was to create an opportunity for small businesses to share their concerns and challenges with the City.

The City representatives’ presentations on how the various departments operate also gave the small businesses a better idea of how to access City services, and how to go about doing business with the City. The City presentations highlighted the past, present and future development initiatives for the Cape Flats.

Janine Myburgh, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce, said meetings like these, were important to small businesses, as the City was the biggest “company” in town, as well as the biggest employer.

“(The City) buys goods and services from businesses, many of them on the Cape Flats. Knowing how the municipality works and how it goes about issuing tenders and selecting winning bidders is vital information for businesses that would like to sell to the City. At the same time, the City is also a service provider and virtually all businesses make use of these services. Examples are the sale of electricity, water and refuse removal. It also supplies a wide variety of social services ranging from recreation facilities to clinics.

“In addition, municipal regulations and their enforcement impact on how businesses can be run. Obvious examples are fire, safety, health and building regulations, traffic control and dealing with emergencies like flooding or other natural disasters.

“Business licences, for example liquor licences, are also municipal matters and these require public consultation.

“It is important to note the municipal property rates on commercial buildings are twice as high as rates on residential property yet businesses, which provide about half the City’s income from rates, have no vote or direct way of influencing City Council decisions. For all these reasons, it is vital for people in business to have good communications with City managers and councillors. It is also vital for City managers and councillors to listen to the business community and to understand their problems and difficulties. The chamber has found that the best way of doing this is through regular meetings such as the City Meets Cape Flats Business Symposium,” Ms Myburgh said.

Presenting the City’s budget to the businesses, deputy mayor, Ian Neilson, explained that most of the City’s income goes towards staff salaries, as it employs 27 000 staff members.

Mr Neilson also added that a quarter of the City’s capital budget is being used by Transport for Cape Town – to ease congestion, and encourage more people to make use of public transport.

He also encouraged small businesses to register at their sub-council offices, as the City’s Request for Quotations for communities, are all advertised at sub-councils.

Responding to a question about development, Mr Neilson said: “As the City, we don’t focus on specific areas when it comes to development. We look at the City as a whole, and see where the best economic growth can take place. Our focus for development is along transport corridors, like the N2 South and Voortrekker Road. The N2 covers a large portion of the Cape Flats. If one looks at Philippi Industria, it is a very depressed area and not functioning well. However, it is a major hub for a new public transport system. Infrastructure, safety and security and social programmes are important for growth. We cannot, however, make business happen, we can only create conditions for it.”

It was Suzette Little, mayoral committee member for early childhood development and social development, who tugged at the business people’s heart strings, when she described the kind of challenges in the community they have to deal with – from child rapes and neglect, to alcohol and drug abuse.

Her talk encouraged Fazloodien Abrahams, the deputy chairperson of the Mitchell’s Plain Chapter, to call on his fellow business people to give back to their communities. “Without a productive society – without people who support you, you won’t have a business. We focus on business and making money, but we also need to give back to the community. We need to commit ourselves to solutions. Many of the mayoral committee members spoke about what their departments can do for business, and I implore you to make use of the opportunities. Let us hope that the Cape Flats Chapter can benefit from City developments. I think, however, the best was saved for last, as it is clear that Ms Little is very passionate about what she does. This is obvious during her talk,” Mr Abrahams said.