by Wendy Mothata

Many people would say starting a business is not for the faint hearted, and a lot has been said about the role of small businesses in the townships, where many Black people live, and in the South African economy as a whole. Young African women continue to make a difference in their communities, from turning ideas into reality, to job creation.

According to the National Development Plan (NDP), 90% of the 11 million jobs that should be created by the government by 2030 should at least come from small and medium enterprises, if the vision of 2030 set out by the NDP is met.

The NDP 2030 vision states that citizens should actively seek opportunities for advancement, learning, experience and opportunity; work together with others in the community to advance development, resolve problems and raise the concerns of the voiceless and marginalised; and, hold the government, business and all leaders in society accountable for their actions. The good part about the 2030 vision is that it allows everyone to embrace their full potential and get their entrepreneurial skills going.

The township business start-up is an important element of the strategy to improve employment and economic empowerment in South Africa. Most people who are in business, or live around the community, call township business “KasiPreneurship.” “Kasi” is an informal Tswana term which means township.

KasiPreneurship refers to small businesses that are started by community members in the townships. The aim of KasiPreneurship is to develop and create job opportunities, which constitutes positively to the South African economy.

Some township women get to the point of quitting their jobs to start their own businesses. Despite the variances in the type of businesses they are into, these women have a common interest of making their business a success and helping the townships develop. They are all passionate, determined and committed. Yes, it all starts with an idea.

Some of these Kasientreprneurs are flourishing and contributing to their local economies, and, most importantly, developing the community. These are the women who build the businesses that South Africa needs. Many of them would attest that entrepreneurship is about the need to adapt—or die.

In our quest to understand what it’s like to start a business from scratch in the townships, we spoke to two women entrepreneurs:

Refilwe Sebothoma (31) is an entrepreneur contributing to the township economy. Sebothoma is a
founder of Puso-Busa-Mmuso (PBM) Creations. Having grown up in Marikana (the village known for mines in South Africa), Sebothoma saw the need and relevance for workers to wear protective clothes while working and yes, that’s how her business started. Observing mine workers every day, Sebothoma saw an opportunity in her community and grasped it with both hands.

She developed an interest in safety and learning more about it. “If I had to start a business, it would definitely be in mining.”

PBM Creations target small and large organisations, both local and international, designing protective clothing and equipment.

The South African Constitution Book, Occupational Health and Safety Act, states that it is an employer’s responsibility to ensure that employees are protected from a potential hazardous environment.

“Protective clothing is a major precautionary measure against possible hazards in a working environment,” said Sebothoma.

“A company which has employees facing hazards at a work place should make a conscious decision to ensure that employees are well protected. All sectors need our services: mining, petroleum, production, construction, agriculture.”

Against all odds, Sebothoma proved that even women can succeed in the mining sector. “My industry is still male dominated, as a young black woman you always have to work ten times as hard to prove yourself before you are accepted and given opportunities,” she said.

PBM Creations is not all about protective clothing but also contributing to job creation in the townships, “I have employed a total of 11 full time workers.”

This woman juggles between motherhood, taking care of the family, and her business. Sebothoma admits that being a mother and a business woman is challenging. “I always start my day very early in the office to ensure that I knock off early”.

Sebothoma agrees that when you start a business, some days you will spend less time with family. “Sometimes when my kids go to bed, I start working.”

She observes that, apart from corruption in the business sector, the industry is heavily monopolized, which makes it difficult for small players to penetrate and grow their businesses. “We experience situations where clients are loyal to their old suppliers and are not willing to change to the new players no matter the new benefits we are bringing in the industry.”

When you have a passion for what you love, your own payment becomes the last thing to focus on. “I worked more than a year without a stable salary, and you watch how you spend every cent that is in your pocket”

“Never stop learning, consistency, hard work, ability to adapt very quickly, know your numbers, understand your market and serve it well,” said Sebothoma, when asked about the key factors in Entrepreneurship.

Thanthi Sepeng

Thanthi Sepeng (32) is a restaurateur, contributing to job creation in the township. She is the Founder of Reve Productions, which offers events management and catering.

Many women in the townships have shifted from complaining about lack of jobs in South Africa to being business start-ups and making a difference in their communities. Sepeng is one of the women who followed this route and created job opportunities for six people in her community.

She believes that female entrepreneurship is about being inspired to turn ideas into reality, building successful businesses and living a life you love.

Inasmuch as there are many restaurants in the townships specialising in a particular food, Sepeng’s menu has made her the favourite among her competitors in the township. Her offers include Fruit basket, Chicken Mix (intestines, feet and gizzards), and of course she has a call in service where people can order in advance. What is more interesting is that people can build their own menu.

Despite her success, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that funding is still a key challenge for business start-ups in the townships. Sepeng attests that starting a company does require some funding.

“Access to markets and capital is challenging especially because the events and catering industry is oversaturated and there are a lot of competitors. I had to build relationships with suppliers to mitigate the challenge,” Sepeng said.

Sepeng also aims to open a second restaurant in Mafikeng and also expand her crop farm in the North West province beyond maize and sunflower.

Sepeng said that what keeps her company going is making clients happy and exceeding expectations.

Despite the challenges that township businesses face, both women believe that small businesses form a big part of employment in the country. “These businesses will sustain the country,” said Sebothoma.

But Destiny Magazine reports that only 25% of money generated in the townships is spent there, so more efforts need to be made shift people’s spending habits.

According to World Bank research, although the township of Diepsloot has a R2 billion economy, more money is spent in the nearby wealthy suburbs of Sandton and Fourways.

First National Bank estimates Soweto’s consumer spending power to be about R5 billion.

The Gauteng Provincial Government said it would allocate about R300 million in support of township enterprises and co-operatives over the 2015/2016 financial year. It is also estimated that Gauteng townships contribute about R100 billion to the province’s R1 trillion economy.