Pretoria – People in a first-world formal economy often do not recognise or appreciate the scale and sophistication of the “kasi” (township) economy, says GG Alcock, author of two books on African informal economies.
He was the guest speaker at the Capital City Business Chamber (CCBC) gala awards dinner held at Sun Arena Time Square on Thursday.
He said millions of “small guys” survived in the informal economy despite regulation and lack of access to resources, and the sector was far bigger and more advanced than people give it credit for.
He believes the informal sector represents the future of African economic activity and is the place where the jobs which are so badly needed could be created.
He estimates the informal “kasi-kos” (food) business alone is worth billions a year, and that despite the impression that these are subsistence operations, many of those involved, such as people making vetkoek, buying and selling vegetables, selling snacks to schoolchildren, or braaiing on the pavement, turn over enough to support their families and send their children to university.
There are a multitude of small businesses and we should give them the respect they deserve, he said. One may think it fantastic to see a vendor selling hot dogs from a stand in New York but we do not see the woman selling vetkoek in Pretoria as doing a “real job” because it doesn’t come with a pay slip?
He told the story of Sphahlo Paleis in the Pretoria CBD which sells traditional township food to the legal fraternity and public servants, and of a couple from Soweto who sell vetkoek, polony and cheese slices in downtown Joburg.
In the early 2000s, he said he was approached by Parmalat which wanted to launch cheese slices into the township market.
Using the “quarter” – a scooped out loaf of bread, usually served with chips, polony and sauce – for a small additional cost a slice of cheese was added.
South Africans love their cheese slices more than any other kind of cheese.
Other sectors which Alcock has explored include stokvels, the “backroom sector” where there has been huge growth as people seek affordable accommodation, and the spaza sector, which he described as the “next big retail sector” after Shoprite and Pick n Pay.
There are many sectors where real employment can be created, and these need to be explored, he said.
Guest of honour at the dinner, Mayor of Tshwane Stevens Mokgalapa, spoke of the known need to create jobs with small business being one of the avenues, while the outgoing CCBC chair, David Morobe, described the chamber as very active, with a focus on developing partnerships to promote the capital city and create opportunities for growth.
Major businesses associated with the capital were represented at the lavish event which also celebrated smaller business entrepreneurs with awards made to Pioneer Plastics (Manufacturing), SM architectural and town planning services (Property), Staza Cleaning services (Business service) and [email protected] Marion Guesthouse (Tourism).