Cry Beloved Township Business

A quick browse in the townships, you will notice a lot of small businesses i.e. spaza-shops, driving schools, internet/printing cafes, pharmacies. Their state of branding hasn’t changed in last 7 or more (of course) years.

This is all observation, you welcome to argue, maybe point areas you have observed as improved. There are those areas that went notches up. There are those that lived up to innovation and taken their businesses to future heights.

Another observation is, a lot of business sites (buildings) in rural areas and townships are old and unmaintained. I’ve observed this in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo: Soweto, Jane Furse, Mamelodi, Alexandra, Globlersdal, Witbank, Middelburg.

I’m describing black business. In other instances, this also applies to white owned businesses:  Lombardy East, Mayfair (which is Indian) and Silverton.

This is not a for-black-only article. Its basis is on the development to prosperity for South Africa.

Most of these businesses are either ran by old men or young adults (you can say youth). It’s probably through inheritance, family responsibility or fresh entrepreneurial venturing.

Given the state of black business in our communities; the lack thereto of progressive maintenance (you have seen old decayed/decaying buildings I’m pointing to) and given the paragraph above. It seems there isn’t any form of conscience towards continual maintenance and upgrade. Worryingly, there isn’t a sense of best-growth-practice-legacy being left for new entrepreneurs by the old generation businessmen.

It’s worrying that most businesses in townships are in decaying shape.

I know some minds are jumping at that I’m bashing black business. Hold those guns playa, I’m not. Reading further will affirm this. It’s all in the spirit of building South Africa.

Maponya Mall, now this is an important benchmark in South African democracy. AN IT shopping mall, owned by a black man, serving a township community, in South Africa! Of course shopping complexes are always being built in townships, but owned by white business mostly.

The truth about apartheid is that it empowered whites at the disempowerment and oppression of blacks. When democracy was realised in 1994, white business already had leverage over black aspiring enterprisers. Which therefore meant/means Pick N Pay, Shoprite, Edgars etc. were leveraged to move faster in serving black communities fully. So in saying, apartheid was about economics.

We are now post apartheid South Africa, the economic scars of apartheid will take time to vanish, but mostly it depends on us, how fast we swim and innovate. So as black business, its time we pulled our socks up and start respecting money. Let’s start putting value forth in attracting business, and use advanced marketing psychologies. It’s not helpful to cry blame on apartheid whereas our business development is stagnant.

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Threats to black business, any business, and to South African development (prosperity).

  1. No formulated conscience towards service, store keeping, marketing, and branding.

I’ve met a lot of small business owners, particularly in black communities, pointing out to problems affecting their business. The number one cry they make is, there isn’t business anymore, number 2 is, big business is taking over (white business) and number 3 is foreigners (Somalis).

Is it that hard for black South African business to overcome and compete, the challenges eluded above?

Baloyi Hair Salon vs. a salon in some mall. A Jet store in Jane Furse vs a Jet store in Eastgate. I bet you in both cases, the latter stores have better service.  Why is it that township (and rural areas) business is not aiming for excellence? Customers are paying in the same currency, which is South African Rands, there isn’t anywhere where it says money is better spent at Eastgate. We have to give forth the best value and service for people’s monies.

Often it’s easy to point to problems and blame everyone but ourselves.

Have the business people I’m talking of ever questioned their service, store keeping, pricing, marketing etc. Have they owned up to the challenges they face (and it doesn’t include burning foreigners), that is coming up with solutions to internally and externally improve their businesses.

There isn’t a sense of conscience towards sales service. I’ve worked at a retail shop before,  I’ve worked at a call centre, at both at these jobs, training was provided. It’s not difficult for black business to keep a standards book, keep maintaining it (improving it) and always relate it to employees. That’s how skills would be built and installed.

I’m not alluding to that business service in black communities is horrible, but mostly there isn’t a level of conscience towards excellent service.

  1. Enslaving our own people

How much does black business pay its employees? Through a quick assessment, someone who works at Pick N Pay versus someone who works at (made up example) Baloyi Bottle Store, you can tell who earns better, works legal working hours, and is plugged into the banking system.

Whereas it’s commendable that our labour unions and government have launched decent working conditions, sadly some (most) black businesses totally derail from these laws.

There are many workers in the townships that work from 7am in the morning, till 11pm, six days a week.

It leads to say, in this fashion, black business isn’t contributing to the growth of the greater society, therefore black intellect is deprived growth. As black business we shouldn’t only enrich our pockets. Its selfish not to train, pay and treat people decently, it takes away development potential of the country.

When you pay people crappy salaries, they will give crappy service, probably act crappy and affect your business greatly (no good way). All it says is you are a crappy selfish business person. These won’t add any value to your business knowledge and development.

  1. No growth conscience

Yet with so many bottles stores, hair salons; we have seen very few black businesses venture into growth models like franchising, outlets, sister stores.

Yet Tops (Spar) and Pick n Pay Liquor venture into our townships. Some of these franchises are black owned, it is still not enough. We need to sprout out and franchise out stores that we own.

  1. Corruption and government tenders

BEE is meant to plug in black people into business ownership, as of course previously we were scientifically singled out from owning any wealth like legacies. Fair enough.

Now government tenders. This means money produced in the private sector, which now is tax, is used to empower the previously disadvantaged. The intention is vey noble and necessary. This is where black business is favoured when government needs certain services or products. Very necessary I must say.

Now, government tenders have become a plague to entrepreneurship.

The truth of the matter and mathematical logic is that, tax money should be used for administration and development. Using public funds for affirmative empowerments, if there isn’t any private sector growth, is highly dangerous.

Can someone calculate this: how many cents in every Rand paid as tax is lost to corruption and wastage spending?

Government tenders have taken a lot of black entrepreneurs’ attention, its hurting new product developments. It seems the skill which is needed to conquer government tenders is not economic value based, but rather connections and kick backs.

The older generation businessmen have neglected efforts in their old businesses in chase of government tenders.


Let’s own up. We are losing business because we do not give our customers reasons to buy from us again. Nothing stays the same. People grow in taste; our businesses should grow as well.

As an entrepreneur, always find solutions to make people buy from your business.

Our business services should be attractive. Therefore there should be service training. This is important even for spaza-shops, hair salons or bottle stores.

People should know your wonderful store (if it’s indeed wonderful), therefore they should be marketing. It’s important for shops in townships to be visible. You do not want to miss out on chance buyers.

It is recipe for stagnant or even falling profits if your business doesn’t always measure it self against competition, but importantly take the lead in venturing into new opportunities.

When one walk into black businesses in township and rural areas, they should experience: excellent and informed customer service, competitive pricing; and a well cleaned, merchandised and maintained store. We must strive to be the very best.

How can we be competitive, add economic value and add development value?

Tiisetso Maloma is a parallel entrepreneur, entrepreneurship activist, @Startup_Picnic founder, author of Forget The business Plan Use This Short Model and Township Biz Fastrack, devised EBC Business Model checklist

Watch out (sign up) for his upcoming book ‘The Anxious Entrepreneur

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A quick browse in the townships, you will notice a lot of small businesses i.e. spaza-shops, driving schools, internet/printing cafes, pharmacies. Their state of branding hasn’t changed in last 7 or more (of course) years. This is all observation, you welcome to argue, maybe point areas you have observed as improved. There are those areas…