Gauteng Premier David Makhura says Africa's growth story will be driven by its citizens but only if colonial boundaries are broken and the energy of its buzzing cities unleashed.
While some only saw chaos in Africa's teeming cities from Accra to Johannesburg, the next apps driving the continent's commerce were being developed in their townships and needed authorities to dismantle the over-regulation hampering their growth, Makhura told Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) delegates in Johannesburg.
"We need smart regulation in the continent,'' Makhura said at a cocktail event for the delegates hosted by the University of Pretoria's Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). "We must break down the barriers and these boundaries that make it difficult for African entrepreneurs to take advantage of the full opportunities in our continent. Our entrepreneurs must go everywhere in search of opportunity.''
The GEC brings together start-ups supporters from more than 150 countries representing different components of their entrepreneurial ecosystems focused on how best to help entrepreneurs start and grow new companies. South Africa became the first African country to host the event at which an African chapter was launched.
Previous hosts include the United States, China, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Italy.
Makhura said Africa was blessed with a big youth population which would lead future growth if supported by the authorities. Gauteng provincial interventions included the investment of R10 billion in helping young people get work experience and helping those who want to start their own enterprises, he told delegates.
These were among plans being implemented as part of South Africa's National Development Plan and the African Union's Agenda 2063 he said, denouncing xenophobia and imploring African entrepreneurs to come to the southern tip of the continent. "We are a hub for small and medium enterprise development, an economic hub of Africa'' he said.
GIBS, which runs several entrepreneurship programmes, saw its role in helping the development of strong economies in training and support for entrepreneurship, research and working with the GEC to help to build ecosystems to help improve enterprises, Yogavelli Nambiar, GIBS's Enterprise Development Academy director said.
"You can't be a citizen of the country without paying attention to its socio-economic needs,'' she said. "As an educational institution, it's the education we provide that will empower people.''
Studies had shown there was a correlation between economic growth and high entrepreneurial activity and with the public sector constrained in its ability to create jobs, it was small enterprises that contributed the most to gross domestic product and jobs.
In South Africa, statistics showed the public sector and big corporates employed about four million of the country's 9.28 million workers with the balance on the books of businesses that have less than 50 people. And yet this was a sector that had a high failure rate of 70 to 80 percent of all new businesses, she said.
Nambiar said this required innovative capital and entrepreneurship, especially in townships where vibrant businesses could be built if adequately supported. Supporting women entrepreneurs was also another initiative that could help boost economic development for the nation.
For Simunza Muyangana, a director of entrepreneurship at business accelerator Bongohive of Zambia, the highlight of the conference was listening to ideas on customer development and getting products to the market.
"This is important because if people learn to deliver value, then customers will be happy to pay and then we get into a cycle where business can be repeated. It's repeated business that grows companies, its repeated business that creates jobs and its repeated business that grows our economies,'' he said.
Zambia was for years among some of Africa's fastest growing economies until a slowdown in commodities including its main copper export and power shortages choked growth. That has pushed many people to entrepreneurship, Muyangana said.