The one thing about the township economy that is always going to be a hindrance is space. Owing to the terrible spatial planning of the apartheid era, a real concern for any aspiring township entrepreneur is the size of his or her business and any associated space required for things like parking. It is those entrepreneurs that can come up with viable solutions to this problem that can make proper use of their limited space and make a success of their business ventures.
One way that is proving successful in mitigating the space problem is one I have advocated for before in this column – turning to pop-up events to conduct businesses that would otherwise require permanent, large spaces. Three townships recently used this phenomenon successfully in three different ways.
Wanda Duma, an entrepreneur based in Langa township, in the Western Cape, recently partnered with internationally acclaimed chef Luke Dale-Roberts. Together, they brought to Langa a fine dining experience of the same standard as that provided by the Test Kitchen, which has, in the past, been rated twenty-second in the top 50 restaurants in the world. This was intended to benefit a number of charities. Doing this as a one-off affair allows for good planning with respect to space requirements, which would not be possible with a permanent structure.
Although it was an event in aid of charity, it proved the feasibility of a business run along similar lines, where spatial constraints are overcome through events that can be planned well in advance and where patrons and township residents can prepare for whatever inconveniences the business will cause.
This concept is similar to what entrepreneurs in Tembisa have done by putting together the Tembisa Food Market. Unlike the Langa Test Kitchen event, this food market takes place on the first Saturday of the month. At the food market, patrons get to taste and buy food from local chefs and restaurants. The brilliance of this model is that the entrepreneurs have chosen to have it at different venues so that every corner of the sprawling township is covered. The latest one, held at Mehlareng stadium, which is usually used for soccer matches, attracted a massive crowd, which spilled over, as a result of which businesses around the venue also benefited from some of these people buying their wares.
The Vilakazi Street Night Market, in Soweto, is run along similar lines but, unlike the two events I have already cited, is focused not only on food but also on giving local artists and other entrepreneurs an opportunity to sell their wares. Usually, night trading in most townships is limited to indoor trading. Vilakazi street, a tourist attraction, is then transformed into a buzzing place of trade where tourists can safely experience township entrepreneurship in a place that offers dining cuisine as fine as anywhere in the numerous South African cities.
The beauty of the pop-up nature of these markets is that, because they are planned ahead, corporate and government sponsorship can be sought to support the events and ensure that they are a success. Such self-run initia- tives should also receive support from the departments of Small Business Development and Trade and Industry. Many businesses only develop beyond what they are through sustained benchmarking efforts against similar initiatives, both locally and internationally.
Given that working around the townships’ spatial limitations is something that should ideally be seen as a temporary measure, it is critical that government, at both local and provincial level, be involved in all the efforts to solve the problem. In the short term, measures that alleviate the problem must be formulated to enable the township economy to do its share in fighting unemployment. However, long-term measures are required that will ensure that, going forward, all human settlements are designed with the economy in mind. It will be no use creating solutions to the problem while similar planning patterns to the ones that got us here in the first place are still being followed.