Whites only as South Africa exhibits at Anuga in Cologne
(Editor: Alex Smit-Stachowski is speaking in her column about life as a South African now living in Germany. The South African journalist lives in Krefeld, in North Rhine-Westphalia/ Germany).
It was like a throwback to Apartheid days. Visitors to the South African pavilion of the Anuga trade show, held in Cologne recently saw a sea of white faces. What has happened in South Africa since ’94 and with black empowerment? One single black person among the 40 exhibitors – that is shameful.
I’ve been in Germany for the past 10 years and have not kept up to steam with the new government schemes to increase black-owned business. Walking through the very impressive pavilion with exhibitors who are genuinely working with previously disadvantaged communities, encouraging upliftment and promoting true African fare was very encouraging. All the stands I visited are doing their part for the new South Africa. So why only white faces with the exception of one Indian gent and a few tan faces?
The food industry is very capital-intensive was the recurring answer. The exhibitors on hand were given the opportunity to exhibit because of the government sponsoring their trip to some extent. This is where the crux of the problem lies. Speaking to heavyweights at the Department of Trade Industry (DTI), it was explained that the exhibitors picked up on the lilywhite problem more than four years ago! It was requested that the government should encourage more black exhibitors to attend so as to properly represent the industry and South Africa.
According to the latest statistics by Statistics South Africa – blacks make up just under 80% of the population, whites do not even make 10%. It is thus inexcusable that 19 years after the first democratic election that only one black person is on hand at an international trade show. The lone ranger was a manager – it was not even his business. This is where the government needs to pull up its socks, as my German civil engineer dad who worked for 37 years in South Africa, would say.
I was embarrassed on behalf of South Africa. We’re such a strong country and I was very pleased to see that exhibitors were all proudly South African and doing a raring trade. They can only do as much as they can – but it is up to the government to encourage new black businesses in the food industry to attend too – as buyers from all the world want to support the country and we would be credible if we truly represent the whole of South Africa, and not just a small thriving sector.
Peppadew managing director, Phill Ovens went on record, saying, he would be willing to help an upcoming black entrepreneur or business and that he has made this offer to DTI four years ago and nothing came of it. “I could helps with marketing, show the simple rules of business, how to prepare a catalogue, set up a stand and so on,” he offered. Peppadew is worldwide brand and this is a good offer.
“I let DTI and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) know and they did nothing,” he said in frustration. There is the feeling that existing companies would be willing to help which is the message I got from the exhibitors. What is missing is a middle-man or someone who will bridge the gap between the existing business and new ones who are aided by the government. I hope that the next trade show I attend here in Europe will see a truly representative display of South African businesses.
Anuga is the largest food service and catering trade show for South Africa and is very useful for getting new contracts and improving on existing ones. The food service industry is a two-billion rand industry – 90% of all home-grown fruit and vegetables are exported and 50% ends up here in Europe, 25% goes to the Far East with Canada, South America and Africa getting the rest.
South Africa is known for quality and proudly avoids producing genetically-modified foods (maize being the exception). Aware of climate change, farmers and the industry are taking steps to cultivate crops that bloom later, take water-logging and adjust to the varying climate conditions.
I am proudly South African and hope that soon – the face of South African business will also represent the whole of the country.