Port Elizabeth Black Business Forum president Litemba Singaphi
Small township businesses in the Eastern Cape that have long been serving communities are crying foul over the introduction of shopping malls and foreign traders on their trading turf.
Spaza and small corner shop owners say the big retailers who come as anchor tenants at malls in townships have taken business away from them.
They say they are too small to compete with the likes of Spar, Shoprite, OK, Checkers and Pick’n Pay.
Zolile Vanani, one such small business owner who for the past 23 years has been running a trading store in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, says his business is struggling.
“In came big retail businesses and foreign-owned spaza shops who have taken advantage of the lucrative and thriving township market,” Vanani says.
He says big shopping malls are springing up in the townships every day and are taking away business from “the small guys”.
“In New Brighton spazas are family-owned businesses passed on from generation to generation.
This trend is dying,” he says.
Vanani says there is now a “Somali or Ethiopian spaza shop at every corner in the townships”. He admits that the foreign spaza shop owners sell their wares at cheaper prices than the locals.
Abdul Mohammed, a Somali spaza shop owner operating in Zwide, says although the foreign traders sympathised with the sentiments of the local business owners, the solution was for them to share business ideas and educate one another, rather than to attack and loot their shops.
“We operate as a group or co-operatives and this helps when we order stock as we get huge discounts. We pool our resources together, go buy stock in bulk and then we share equally among us. This helps so much and we are prepared to share such ideas with the local small business owners,” says Mohammed while packing his wares onto his shelves.
Foreign small business owners are also known to give credit to township residents, and sometimes even to give customers items like bread and milk for free if they do not have enough money.
Port Elizabeth Black Business Forum president Litemba Singaphi, said the advent of democracy has still to benefit black businesses.
“It is sad that for black business people, especially small business, there is no good story to tell,” says Singaphi, also a young businessman who has led numerous protest marches in support of the rights of small businesses.
However Mohammed says in Motherwell, a township in Port Elizabeth, foreign traders have set up 280 shops creating a considerable number of jobs.
“Our shops get looted every time, but the next day we go back to work and start from scratch,” he says.
Andile Ben-Mazwi, a local estate agent, also expressed concern at what he called the “worrying mushrooming” of shopping malls in townships leaving no room for small black businesses to grow.