Run on numbers: By the sweat of your brow, you will eat your bread so create work for yourself and others

Author Graeme Foley firmly believes the small business sector can reduce unemployment in South Africa. Picture: Ziphozonke Lushaba/Independent Newspapers.

Author Graeme Foley firmly believes the small business sector can reduce unemployment in South Africa. Picture: Ziphozonke Lushaba/Independent Newspapers.

Published Mar 30, 2024


As pointed out in previous articles, our most important minister must be the one with the title “Minister of Employment and Labour”. We do not have time left to fix the problem. We must make it our number one priority.

Graeme Foley, author of “Dream Big Start Small 1 000+ Ideas You Can Start Today”, said: “There are thousands of people who are either unemployed or would like to supplement their income.

“Many parents or grandparents also have to take care of their children or grandchildren, and many pensioners and divorced women have to turnip and scrape every month to keep the pot boiling.”

There are many well-known quotations regarding work by clever and talented people.

∎ I have not failed. I’ve just found 10 000 ways that won’t work. – Thomas A Edison.

∎ Far and away, the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. – Theodore Roosevelt.

∎ Let the beauty of what you love be what you do. – Rumi

∎ Nothing will work unless you do. – Maya Angelou


South Africa’s woeful societal problems and challenges are glaringly clear. “Water is life, sanitation is dignity” is an eloquent statement made by Leon Basson, MP, and DA water and sanitation spokesperson. The same can be said about employment, it brings both life and dignity.

According to Foley, “It just depends how we tackle this huge problem of unemployment and financial debt.

“In 1994, the Rwandan government launched the project Rwanda Vision 2020, with the main aim of creating primarily a knowledge-based society. We will remember that before that, the Rwandan population was exposed to incredibly cruel conditions.

“Despite these events, the World Economic Forum recently pointed out that Rwanda is one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, with a low unemployment rate.

“Rwanda’s key to success has been the fact that, among others, they have succeeded in reforming their education system and emphasising entrepreneurship. In doing so, they succeeded in bringing about a larger middle-class,” said Foley.

Thousands of South Africans have suffered severely from the global recession and increased cost of living over the past three years. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 not only left thousands of people unemployed, and forced thousands of businesses to close their doors, but caused the middle-class to shrink by nearly 30%.

Skyrocketing load shedding, energy, fuel, and food prices as well as corruption have rendered South Africans hopeless, despondent, and depressed.

Statistics SA has revealed that 32.9% of South Africans are without work or a decent income. It is also alarming that about 12% of graduates are unemployed, while 80% of pensioners earn less than R10 000 a month, which means that we are among the poorest in the world.

More than 40% of women also struggle to find work. The National Credit Regulator recently expressed its concern about South Africans’ increased debt-levels. Inflation and interest rate hikes have sent South Africans’ debt-levels sky high.

Seven out of 10 South Africans struggle monthly to meet their budgets and fall deeper and deeper into debt. Personal loans have become a lifeline for thousands of people to calm their debt-levels, even among high-income individuals.

According to DebtBusters’ data, debt-counselling enquiries increased by 43% in the second quarter of 2023, and online debt management increased by 99% compared to the same period last year.

“We also see more and more people begging on street corners every day, and hundreds of feeding schemes have been started to alleviate the distress of South Africans living below the poverty line.

Foley also cites the examples of countries such as Japan (which has a population of 130 million) and China with a population of 1.3 billion, compared to South Africa’s 65 million. He said Japan and China’s focus has been placed primarily on maths and science as well as reading literacy, population reduction, and encouragement to develop small businesses.

Today, China and Japan rank among the top 10 most literate countries in the world. A decrease of 31% population growth in Japan and 28% in China is envisaged.

The South African experience in the use of imported labour is once again disappointing, with numerous examples. After 4pm, the exit of the Telkom building in Midrand; the office block known as the Hub looks like a train station in the middle of India.

As previously reported, Simbi Phiri of Malawi has received numerous contracts, such as the Giyani water project. Still on the water theme, according to a 2014 report, 84% of waste-water plants were in critical risk, high risk or medium risk. With only 16% of these plants in low risk.

Oversight shows that this situation has worsened since 2014, and this implies that millions of litres of untreated or inadequately treated sewage are illegally discharged into rivers and streams every day.

The water and sanitation minister at the time, Lindilwe Sisulu, responded with a shameless excuse that: “Very few of our engineers would possibly opt to go work in the rural areas.”

The Engineering Council of South Africa has 34 000 registered professionals, of which more than 14 800 are registered professional engineers.

This confirms that South Africa has numerous skilled engineers who can assist with its infrastructural challenges. So what’s stopping us?

At national-level, Cuba’s water losses are calculated at around 60%, due to infrastructure failure. This situation is even worse than our losses of 37%. A 250ml bottle of water costs R10, I do not want to calculate the wastage as it is just too depressing.

We have job opportunities; we have urgent problems; and we have people. What in the world is holding us back from doing what is required?

Foley thinks that the major problem of the struggling and severely weakened South African economy and unemployment can be addressed at different levels and ways.

Forbes’s above survey, for example, showed that South Africans have a discipline problem. Just look at what most school grounds look like. For example, children are employed in Japan to keep school grounds tidy. This discipline then trickles down to Japanese towns and cities, where you hardly notice a small piece of paper in the street.

South Africa finds itself way below our potential on the soccer field at national-level. This problem starts at school-level, where there are insufficient soccer fields and programmes. School boards should organise parents and pupils to help build soccer fields. Sport creates jobs and can become very lucrative at professional-level.

The winnings of South Africans over one weekend in the Liv Golf tournament in Saudi Arabia are worth a second look. That means Oosthuizen and Schwartzel banked a cool R42.85 million each, while Burmeister and Grace took home R12.15m apiece. The four South Africans earned R110m in just one weekend.

According to Foley, attention should also be paid to the education curriculum in our country. “Learners already have to be taught at school to become job creators, and entrepreneurship should be offered as a subject at schools.

Small businesses and micro-enterprises are a big investment and solution for the future, he said. It is estimated that there are about 400 million micro and small businesses in the world that make up 90% of the business sector, and are 70% of the labour market,” said Foley.

In Foley’s book “Dream Big Start Small”, he also mentions companies like Microsoft, Nike, Amazon, and Apple, that were all started in a garage.

South Africa has also included many success stories from companies such as Joko Tea, Kreepy Krauly, HS Balls, and Ouma Beskuit, all started at home.

“In Europe, 66% of start-ups were launched from home in 2020; 69% of new businesses were also started in America in the same year; while in Europe, 60% of all businesses are run by families,” said Foley.

“Problems and challenges create dozens of opportunities. Add to that a positive mindset and entrepreneurial spirit. Eskom’s crisis and inability to supply power has given the solar industry a massive boost. The ongoing crime has created thousands of jobs in the security industry.

“A poor education system has increased the number of private schools that have been built over the past decade. Many of the ideas can be implemented for less than R1 000,” he pointed out.

Some of the more than 1 000 ideas include micro or small businesses such as a personal buyer, a golf coach, transporting children to schools, cleaning houses with green techniques, freelance writing, language lessons for children, a mobile DJ organising spa parties, career coaching, face painter, treehouse builder, an aromatherapy business and many more feasible ideas,“ Foley said.

“Dream Big, Start Small” is not just an ordinary book, but an effort to inspire and encourage entrepreneurs. Foley said the small business sector can reduce unemployment in South Africa.

I have pleaded for a tax deduction for people who employ domestic workers in respect of the payment of such salaries, in a similar way that a juristic person (company) is permitted to deduct salaries as an expense against income.

This request is based on fair and reasonable grounds and will enhance the growth of the domestic service industry.

* Kruger is an independent analyst