Black Management Forum (BMF) founding member Eric Mafuna says black businesspeople should not isolate themselves when seeking growth but should be prepared to mixed with a cross-section of people including other races, in order to learn new things that could help their businesses.
Mafuna, who was the guest speaker at the inaugural Conversation with BMF series of meetings for the Bloemfontein chapter of the organisation urged members to diversify in terms of who they relate with and be willing to learn from others if they want to grow in business.
“I regret not having Afrikaans speaking friends because I could not speak the language,” said Mafuna in his wide ranging delivery lasting about 90 minutes.
“Diversity is very important. Expand your circle of friends. Do not just spend time with people that you agree with all the time or those that you are familiar with. Allow yourself to mix even with those that you may call frenemies. Out of the five people that you call friends, at least three to five of them could be your frenemies. That’s how you grow,” he explained.
Mafuna said he came together with other black professionals around 1974 to form the BMF because he felt many educated blacks lacked support for personal and professional development because everyone was just doing their own thing.
As a result, many blacks who had acquired some tertiary education spent most of their time drinking alcohol and engaging in other social ills, something he found hurtful and felt should be changed.
“I found many blacks with degrees and other qualifications spending a lot of time in the shebeens. I said is this the fate of people that they should be in such places? Black people had remained at the back of the queue despite attaining some education and having potential to progress in life.
“So, in 1974, I called other professionals and presented my idea. There were no black people in South Africa at that with the title of manager. We wanted to change that and find ways of empowering each other as black people,” said Mafuna, who is also a former student activist.
He noted among their founding, BMF was never meant to go about fighting against the whites or those with the means of production, but to find ways of working with them and learn in order for blacks to be able to start and run their own businesses successfully.
According to Mafuna, the differences that blacks and whites had during the apartheid era should not continue to divide the country because it’s now a democratic state and people should work and learn from each other in order to move forward.
“We needed to be where we are today so that we can develop and I think BMF should be a frontrunner in building the country. You can’t protect people from development.”
Mafuna said it’s also important to ensure that women are given fair opportunities to grow in business and take up leadership positions because they can be very good leaders.
“By the age of five, you have learnt everything you need about leadership. And who teaches children at that age? It’s the women. So, allow them a fair chance in business,” he explained.
Dr Mafikeng Mokalobe from the Office of the Premier who addressed the meeting on behalf of the Director General of the Free State Provincial Government Kopung Ralikontsane said the province was awash with opportunities for local businesspeople and the government was prepared to assist whenever the need arises.
He said local businesspeople just needed to be organised and have a clear understanding of what they what to achieve because government wants to see the economy prosper and will be more than willing to assist.
“Premier Sisi Ntombela stated in the 2019 State of the Province Address (SOPA) that financial and non-financial support was provided to 2 801 SMMEs (Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises). Dedicated business incubation programmes to assist start-up businesses will also be introduced soon,” explained Mokalobe.
Last year, 1 827 unemployed graduates participated in the provincial government’s skills development programmes and of that number, 782 were now enrolled in apprenticeship and learnership programmes.
This year, according to figures from the SOPA presented by Mokalobe, the province is expected to create 52 000 job opportunities of which 28 600 will benefit women. More than 20 000 job opportunities will benefit the youth while over a thousand will be earmarked for people living with disabilities.