Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to determine the major long-term role that hands-on could play in and in one of the poorest regions of – the Eastern Free State (EFS). This is done against a background of frequently occurring violent protests against the inadequacy of the government’s hand-out poverty alleviation strategy of social grants, free houses and free social services.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper uses desk research and quantitative analysis of survey data collected from the Phuthaditjhaba area of Qwaqwa in the EFS. Findings – The poverty indicators confirm the accepted view of the Free State as one of the poorest provinces in South Africa, which makes Qwaqwa, the poorest part of the Free State, a real human plight. While government hand-out poverty alleviation measures, with their unintended consequences of violent protests and demonstrations, may only help some of the in the short term, training in entrepreneurship and provision of other facilities could give owners of micro and small enterprises (MSEs) opportunities to grow their businesses and get themselves and other out of poverty.

Furthermore, as a result of a huge communication gap, MSE operators in Phuthaditjhaba, the commercial hub of Qwaqwa, do not even know of government agencies charged with the responsible of assisting small business operators in the area. Though they lack the finance and other endowments required to grow their businesses, the experience has given MSE operators some ideas about the kind of assistance that may help in this regard and even make it possible for them to provide employment for others – finance, government support, infrastructure and premises, training, etc. Practical implications – As shown by the findings of a study sponsored by the Maluti-A-Phofung local municipality, there is potential for growth of small businesses in many areas of the EFS economy. Training of survivalist entrepreneurs and other poor persons with potential could open their eyes to opportunities around them which they could take advantage of to improve their economic situation and that of other poor persons in the area through job creation. Originality/value – In addition to highlighting the shortcomings of the current poverty alleviation strategy of the South African Government, this is the first study that brings entrepreneurship training to the fore in the fight against poverty in the EFS.
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