Who is setting the agenda for township economic recovery?

In recent times, although not pronounced there has been a growing discourse around what is called “Township Economy”, TE or others refer to it as “Kasi Economy”. NOMI NKONDLO writes…

The concept has caught government’s attention, with President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2018 already undertaking a walk-about with investors in Soweto during his three-day Investment Summit that was held in Sandton. This was part of his “government plans to boost township economy by bringing more investment”.

Early this year, commenting on interventions by the Department of Small Business Development (DSBD), he acknowledged the persistent neglect of townships and rural areas. He commended DSBD, through the Small Enterprise Funding Agency (SEFA) that has initiated a Township and Rural Entrepreneurship Programme (TREP) and funded a couple of township and rural enterprises.

Are citizens of these townships aware of or do they even see an economy in their areas, or are they still imprisoned in the psyche of townships as ghettos? Is suburbia their only frame of reference of what qualifies as an economy? Who is setting the agenda of the TE, deciding which goods and services are the backbone of supply-demand chains for these townships?

In May, we worked with Tumelo Pudumo of Table Power Discussions, to host SEFA at Sochilla African Cuisine, NY 1, where they shared details of the TREP and how to access the funds for a chesanyama, bakeries, cooked food, fruit and vege, butcheries and spaza shops, among others. We also had SMJ Bakery and Catering Events present, a living example of a business from Gugulethu who got the TREP funding.

The work in this space is growing with the likes of the Association of Black Securities and Investment Professionals (ABSIP) holding national roadshows on the Township Economy. A recent one was at Khayelitsha Bandwidth Barn, working with the likes of Vusi Vokwana of Gugulethu from Kasi Catalysts, and other stakeholders. Even Radio Zibonele took interest in this topic as it was featured on its evening show in the past week.

Critical to note, is the apparent absence of a structured voice from the township entrepreneurs and enterprises operating in the Kasi space to direct how their lived business experiences ought to shape TE interventions. This is to avoid what could potentially be a top-down and more bureaucratic approach to TE conception; its interventions made highly academic and loosing crucial grounding of those that these townships (since formation) had given human face to.

The township as a spatial and geographic space has been intentionally constructed with minimal social and physical infrastructure as these were to be dormitories of cheap labour.

Most do not have sufficient physical infrastructure for township entrepreneurs to run effective businesses, as electricity, water and sanitation, including municipal by-laws have not been developed to meet the demands of business potential in these areas.

Crime is the biggest issue, with crime prevention approaches more socially inclined, than an economic problem. We are in a race against time, and need township communities to take centrestage in the development of TE that guarantees an economic empowerment divided for its citizens and enterprises.

The involvement of township entrepreneurs as both subjects and objects of realising the economic beneficiation and potential of these areas, is key if real economic recovery and rebuilding is to be achieved.

It is not enough for TE, to be used to integrate township-based businesses to an untransformed mainstream economy. TE, must enforce the much needed reforms of bigger markets and value chains that continue to gang against and exploit smaller and less developed economies like townships.

  • Nomi Nkondlo is a member of the Provincial Legislature; as well as a member of the Standing Committee on the Finance, Economic Opportunities and Tourism, the Standing Committee on Transport and Public Works, and the Budget and Public Accounts committees.
Nomi Nkondlo is the member of provincial legislature.