African women want Opportunities, not Pity - Vusi Thembekwayo

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Vusi Thembekwayo 28 February 2020

One of South Africa’s (and Africa broadly) most pressing problem is how to build an inclusive economy that is agile, adapt & presents an equal opportunity to all its citizens, especially those that it has previously excluded. It is important to remember that the exclusions were not competency-based but structural –in so as the Group Areas Act, legislated– job reservation laws, and enforced by the police & armed forces.

So black women were designated, third-class citizens. First, they were sub-human. Second, because they were black & third because they were women.

Imagine then the plight of women in rural South Africa. Their lack of access to city-based opportunities, poor access to mobility and information infrastructure further exacerbated their dire plight. But the worst of these is the paternalistic tribal system of much of rural South Africa that is often instructional with respect to how they treat a black woman’s body.

Today, even the corporate attire that is considered appropriate for much of the formal workplaces is not concerned with the comfort of the black woman, let alone her representation.

Many of our grandmothers had the intellect, the work-ethic & often the desire to make something of their lives… something beyond being the homemaker.

Such is the curse of the genetic lottery card that births to a race, a family, a country, a culture & a time-period without your consent.

So, how do we build economies that understand these structural and historical exclusions, and yet are human enough to seek redress?

How do we build a boardroom environment and etiquette that is not foreign to the worldview of the rural black woman?

How do we see the world through the experiences of the rural black woman so that we can experience her as an equal rather than a worthy recipient of our pity?

My hypothesis is simple: African women: an opportunity, not pity.

If you consider the world of entrepreneurship, a lack of “Entrepreneurial Imagination” is not the problem for black & female entrepreneurs. What is needed, is funding, relationship capital & market access.

Without nuance, if you travel the length and breadth of the African continent you will experience the same truth: the most excluded entrepreneurs tend to be black, female & rural.

Recently, I travelled to Thohoyandou to finalise some business. The day had been long & arduous, but I wanted to drive past Tshakhuma Market. This market is the JSE of the rural woman of Thohoyandou, who sells their agri-products to anybody that dares stop by their market. They are smart, enterprising & driven.

These are the women who make up 50.4% of the reported household heads in the Thulamela Local Municipality, in the Limpopo province, supporting on average 3.8 people in their household. They are also the women who tend to lack access to sustainable funding, and most definitely access to markets.

To be honest, my time with these incredible women was a selfish pursuit. These warriors & caregivers always leave me inspired to push harder for funding for black entrepreneurs. You would think this is an easy feat in a country such as South Africa.

But my industry of venture capital continues to think that businesses that are “fundable” must be in cities, tech-based, run by founders that speak the Queen’s English and attend conferences.

My VC firm, MyGrowthFund has been working for years to debunk this myth. It is exactly for this reason that we host our now internationally acclaimed MasterClasses. We believe that we can leverage the internet to expand the reach of education & equip even the most ignored demographies.

So, what are the facts?

According to Trading Economics, the Agriculture GDP of South Africa in 2019 was R 69 058.48 million and the Limpopo province provided 17% of that National Agriculture GDP.

So, why is the provision of capital to these subsistence business owners in a key sector for our economy so difficult?

Well, for small businesses like those at the Tshakhuma Market, funding opportunities are extremely limited. And one of the very few ways in which these kinds of businesses can get funding would be by micro-financing through the Grameen bank model of Village Banking or communal lending.

The world has given us lots of examples & literature to unlock funding to these business owners. What we lack is the courage in venture capital by the few limited partners that fund small businesses.

From our experience, these types of entrepreneurs need an Opportunity, not Pity.

This makes me wonder if this misalignment will ever be corrected and if entrepreneurs in townships & rural areas will take up an agency and start fighting for what they are due?

And what they are due is INCLUSION!

Speaker | Investor | Dragon Slayer