Nico Ferreira, a pioneer of Small Business Development and Local Economic Development, died peacefully in Hermanus on 16 June at the age of 90.

Born in the Free State town of Odendaalsrus, Nico studied political science at the University of Pretoria. From a very early age he had the belief and vision that unity and social renewal needed to come to South Africa and to Africa, and that he had a role to play.

As a young man, he met and became a life-long friend of Mr PQ Vundla, when he tried to mitigate the conflict during the infamous removal of residents from Sophiatown. A bond was built between these two – the seasoned ANC political and community leader and the young Afrikaner. In years to come they travelled the world together, speaking of the change each had undergone in their quest for a new South Africa.

Nico became an international participant in the work of Moral Re-armament (MRA) and was for many years involved in actions to solve conflict situations and improve social standards in countries as diverse as post-war Germany, Brazil, Nigeria and Kenya.

In the late ‘60s he and his wife returned to South Africa and founded a youth development programme, ‘Springbok Stampede’, which toured South Africa and neighbouring countries with musical productions that voiced a message of optimism and reconciliation.

He was also approached by the Norton Group and Barlow World to develop and manage their social outreach programme. Nico was convinced that Small Business Development, in particular manufacturing, could play a key role in economic upliftment in the country. He travelled the length and breadth of the country identifying small industrial workshops –brickyards, furniture-makers, clothing manufacturers, fencing material specialists, farmers, etc, and worked with these entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

He became a well-known figure amongst organisations such as NAFCOC (National African Federated Chamber of Commerce), and the Small Business Development Corporation, (SBDC) and initiated the establishment of the National Industrial Chamber (NIC) and the National African Farmers’ Union (NAFU). He organised group study tours for these entrepreneurs to the USA, Japan, Singapore, and Europe. Out of these experiences grew the idea of Local Economic Development (LED).

In 1982 Nico and his family moved to Stutterheim in order to concentrate his efforts in the Eastern Cape and work in the rural areas which he so loved. However, by the late 1980s the volatile political and socio-economic future of Stutterheim was on the brink of breakdown. As mayor, Nico mediated a programme between the black residents who staged a mass consumer boycott due to a lack of service delivery, and the Town Council and white residents.

The Stutterheim Development Foundation was registered and the Foundation’s far-reaching programmes included housing and infrastructure, improved schooling, agriculture, small business enterprises and rural development. In the words of the first black mayor, “Much bridge-building had to be done in a divided community and we are proud that as leaders we not only managed to build these bridges, but we walked across them and joined hands as the people of the town.”

Nico retired to Hermanus in 2003 but continued to involve himself in a variety of community activities. He was a Member of the Board of Trustees of the Enlighten Education Trust, founded by Mr Henry Kuiper.

He was a visionary leader with a keen understanding of the present, while at the same time building a conceptual model of the future and bringing it into being. His actions inspired others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more. His lively interest in current affairs and his abiding interest in the activities and lives of the hundreds of people with whom he had contact will be sorely missed. He wanted the best and for that he gave his all.

In 2013, during an overseas trip, Nico suffered a severe brain haemorrhage which incapacitated him. He was admitted to the Onrus Manor Healthcare Centre a year ago where he passed away in his sleep. He was married to Loel Rubidge from Graaff Reinet and they have a daughter who lives in Vienna with her husband, and a son who lives with his family in the Cayman Islands.

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