In the week before President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his state of the nation address (Sona), in which he spoke of opening up the economy for entrepreneurship, especially for the youth, the City of Joburg confiscated the sandwiches of a young entrepreneur.

News site Business Insider SA had reported the heartwarming and inspiring story of Itumeleng Lekomamyane, 27, who grew his sandwich business to a R20,000-a-month enterprise just six months after starting out with R800.

In my view, Lekomamyane personifies what we mean by growing small business and self-reliance.

But Joburg’s authorities had other plans. Metro police spokesperson Wayne Minnaar told Business Insider: "Our officers won’t without good reason confiscate goods, [Lekomamyane] must have been in contravention of the bylaws."

According to the city’s website, there is indeed a process for those trading in food: "If you are a hawker selling food and meals, which you take from place to place or sell from a vehicle, you need to have a licence. You will need to apply for a licence from the city’s trade licence department. In addition, you will need to pay a one-off application fee. Once the documentation is completed, the application will be forwarded to five departments to check that the following city requirements are met: environmental health, noise and air pollution control, public safety, urban planning, building control. An inspection is carried out of the premises by the departments concerned. Only when all departments have returned favourable reports and recommend approval, [will] the trade licence be issued."

If we were a mindful nation, we would not discourage Lekomamyane’s efforts with a cumbersome regulatory framework

You need only get halfway through this to feel discouraged.

Now to quote from Ramaphosa’s June 2019 Sona: "We must reach a point where no company need wait more than six months for a permit or licence, and new companies should be able to be registered within a day … We will continue to reduce the cost of doing business."

Does Joburg’s process seem in line with this?

Here is why Lekomamyane’s story is so distressing. The Freedom Charter is perhaps the most progressive formulation of the aspirations of a democratic society and a free people. The document declares: "There shall be work and security." Simply understood, it promises the opportunity for people to employ their efforts, energy and talents to make themselves and their families secure.

Lekomamyane was engaged in this exact pursuit.

Creating value

Minnaar says everyone has to abide by the law. And this is true. But the question we must ask, when we legislate and regulate, is what problem the city is responding to by forcing traders such as Lekomamyane through this onerous process. And do Ramaphosa’s utterances about making it easy to do business apply to people like him?

We repeatedly hear that growth will deliver jobs — and this is true. But it’s not the whole picture. Yes, high growth rates attract investment that, when deployed to the right economic activities, delivers jobs. But it is also people’s daily efforts and outputs that, when aggregated, amount to growth.

When Lekomamyane butters the bread, cuts the cheese and lays on the ham, he creates value. When he cooks the chicken, shreds it, and adds mayonnaise to make delicious sandwiches, he adds value to primary produce and engages in productive efforts.

He is a man at work. He is giving meaning to our aspirations, and if we were a mindful nation, we would not discourage his efforts with a cumbersome regulatory framework.

If we are serious about creating jobs and fostering employment, we have to rethink our regulatory framework. More than that, we must adjust the lens through which we view people such as Lekomamyane if we are to build an inclusive SA in which there is work for all.

Payi is the founder of Nascence Advisory & Research