Garlic farmer Molly Nikelo walks through her fields in Nieu-Bethesda in the Eastern Cape. Picture: REUTERS
Garlic farmer Molly Nikelo walks through her fields in Nieu-Bethesda in the Eastern Cape. Picture: REUTERS

SA needs successful black role models to encourage others to engage in business sectors that are considered unattractive but are actually vital to the economy, says Kobus Jonker, director of the Tshwane School of Business & Society.

The school, part of the Tshwane University of Technology, plans to launch a programme for township entrepreneurs in 2021. One of the aims is to turn “subsistence” enterprises into commercial ones. Most current operations exist merely to feed and clothe the owners and their families.

Jonker says: “We want to help people take their business to the next level and employ others.”

The same applies to agriculture management, in which the school is also developing a programme. “It’s difficult to get people to look on farming as a career, because SA society traditionally sees farmers as poor,” Jonker says.

By training people to look beyond subsistence farming, the school hopes its agricultural management course will help farmers not only grow employment but also feed local communities and beyond.

“There’s a huge cultural problem with our perception of entrepreneurship and farming, and we have to overcome it,” says Jonker. “But we need role models – people who are successful and who others seek to emulate.”

The long-term aim of such programmes is to turn informal businesses into formal ones. The problem, as ever, is that administrative regulations and red tape will deter most from doing so. “The government must make the environment more friendly,” says Jonker. “There are huge opportunities for township entrepreneurs to flourish and we should be making it as easy as possible for them to do so.”

Jonker, who assumed control of the school last year, says he is encouraged by positive market reaction to the institution’s growing visibility. Response to the school’s 2021 MBA marketing has been far stronger than expected. A Zoom introduction to the MBA programme, limited to 300 potential applicants, was over-subscribed – “something we could never have imagined.”

Like other schools, Tshwane has had to change its teaching methods in 2021 because of Covid-19. The move to wholly online teaching was challenging at first but academics and students alike adjusted quickly. Jonker says year-end exams, due at the end of October, will probably run a few days late, but “I think we’ve done pretty well overall, considering the potential complications from everything that’s happened this year”.

Despite frequent questions about its continued relevance, Jonker believes the MBA plays a unique role in the business education system. Specialist master’s degrees in subjects like finance and marketing have their place, but they don’t offer the all-round application skills of an MBA.

“An MBA is not an academic exercise. It’s about the practical application of knowledge,” says Jonker. “We are developing problem solvers and decision makers. Covid has revealed a profound lack of these skills. As long as the MBA retains its unique mix of a theoretical base and the ability to use it in the real world, it will be safe.”

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