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City of Johannesburg refutes false reports Soweto empowerment zone

CITIZEN.CO.ZA / 30 JUNE 2019 - 11:14 / ANA

The city had been grappling with the problem of illegal occupation at the SEZ.

The City of Johannesburg has vehemently refuted and condemned false allegations made via the Gauteng provincial government’s Twitter account and other social media platforms alleging that the city intends closing down the Soweto Empowerment Zone (SEZ) and chasing out small businesses operating in the facility.

MMC for Economic Development Leah Knott

“These claims are without basis and it is regretful that the premier’s office would make such claims without confirming such information or informing the city of his visit a day after the city opened the Soweto Opportunity Centre within the SEZ, which primarily serves as support for local small businesses,” mayoral committee member for economic development Leah Knott said on Sunday.

“We question whether these statements are the result of a genuine concern or rather an intention to gain political favour at the expense of service delivery,” she said.

The city reaffirmed its commitment to invigorating the spirit of entrepreneurship and assured residents that the SEZ would remain open for business. This multi-party administration had cast a sharp focus on supporting small businesses as part of its 2021 target of growing the economy by five percent.

The city had been grappling with the problem of illegal occupation at the SEZ. A large part of it emanated from a contract it had with a company called The Business Place, which was appointed by the previous African National Congress-led administration as a sub-contractor to run the business hubs. The hubs were scrapped by the present administration as they failed to achieve their mandate of supporting entrepreneurs and were replaced by the current opportunity centre model, Knott said.

After termination of The Business Place’s contract, the city discovered that the company had sublet parts of the facility without consent and a failure to pay rent rendered their continued stay illegal.

When the city conducted a vetting process of all tenants on the premises it further discovered that more businesses were operating either without lease agreements in place or had failed to fulfil their monthly rental obligations. This included private law firms and other businesses with the capacity to afford rent and who offered no real support to the local community.

Legal process were followed and illegal tenants were notified of the city’s intention to take over facilities for proper leasing as well as operation of an opportunity centre for local residents and were consequently evicted.

Knott said a careful audit of the property was conducted. ‘‘All businesses operating there were vetted on a case by case basis and credible services to the community were encouraged to apply for a lease with the city.’’

She also sought to clarify that cordial engagements were held with tenants when the city carried out renovations for the newly opened Atlehang Opportunity Centre now operating on the premises.

The SEZ was a large property and the opportunity centre operated in only a portion of this property. ‘‘The rest of the facility was released as per council resolution for investment and opportunity for local businesses including those currently in occupation.

‘‘Our function as government is to support entrepreneurs, not be an impediment nor to apply favour to certain individuals with their own agenda. Reports alleging that we are evicting people and closing down the SEZ are unfounded and false,’’ she said.

The Atlehang Centre would serve to support the businesses operating on The SEZ premises. ‘‘The centre offers more comprehensive services under one roof, including job seekers portal; general business information and advice; business assessments, gap analysis and development plans; business management training seminars, including financial literacy, marketing sales and operations managements; tax and accounting advisory services, including company registration, tax compliance, financial advisory and auditing; managed workshops, meeting rooms, internet Wi-Fi services offered on a subsidised monthly fee and/or pay-per-use basic; funding facilitation including funding products awareness and application support; enterprise development services delivery points; partner services on site; and assistance with city supplier database and compliance issues.

“The city has formed various business partnerships with associations such as the South Africa Revenue Service, CIPC, Innovation Hub, Productivity SA, Small Enterprise Development Agency, South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), ABSA, TUHF, GenAfrica, Discovery and Smart Procurement World who provide services free of charge to residents and the city. We look forward to introducing new partners in the future.

Similar centres were opened across Johannesburg over the past year in areas such as Kilpfontein, Alexandra, Inner City, Montclare, Roodepoort, Orange Farm, and Diepsloot, Knott said.



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