Township residents should be confident not only to earn their livelihood in their neighbourhoods but also to make economic progress.
Although extensive improvements have been made to infrastructure in recent years, especially in road construction, electrification and emergence of small businesses, these do not provide sufficient employment and income-generating opportunities for the people living in these regions, therefore something must give.
Let us recap: The township economy underpinned black business during the dark days of apartheid. There were a plethora of services rendered within that environment.
Lest we forget that in Soweto the late Dr Nthato Motlana and a group of black investors opened Lesedi hospital, the first private hospital in Soweto.
Marina Maponya who was one of our role models in business was an eminent businesswoman who together with her husband ran a flourishing business in the township. I and a group of doctors built Legae clinic in Mabopane.
Many black professionals thrived by doing business in the townships, serving the township community. After the birth of democracy in 1994, there was a shift into corporate South Africa and the emergence of black economic empowerment, sadly and regretfully, leaving township business to decay.
In order for the townships to continue to survive, it is important that they become more connected to the global marketplace rather than serve as labour reservoirs. This requires investments in infrastructure such as high- speed internet, transportation and even more shopping malls.
The availability of basic amenities and certain infrastructure such as round-the-clock electricity and drinking water, adequate street lighting, proper drainage, waste recycling, good education and health facilities and good administrative practices are naturally imbibed in the concept of a model township.
For an ideal township, another important aspect is the feeling of belongingness among township folks. A harmonious relationship among residents is necessary for their well-being.
Super-fast internet connections and advanced communications networks could at least put Soweto on the same playing field as Sandton for attracting new technology businesses.
After all, advanced communications allow companies to put parts of their business in any location.
For those who do not want to move out the townships in search of greener pastures, other methods to improve their livelihoods have been tried out with varying degrees of success.
These include the promotion of industries producing a range of goods from handicrafts to processed food, which utilise agricultural produce and other locally available raw materials.
Over the years, the number of such small, rural-based enterprises has increased and their product range has expanded. But growth has often been stunted by the lack of expertise and knowledge in crucial areas like entrepreneurship, management, finance, marketing and technology.
There should be recognition that township communities also need to thrive and there may be opportunities where appropriate forms of development can help to develop a prosperous economy, including housing, building conversions, and rural diversification schemes.
Indeed, corporate companies that are doing business in the townships should actually be catalysts of revitalising township economy through the following interventions:
- Bylaws should be amended to enable township businesses to thrive. Fresh produce should be promoted in the township and there’s plenty of arable land around. Food should not be trucked into the township if we can produce enough and only if we cannot should it be permitted;
- Locals should be encouraged to open stores like fast food stores in township malls to create employment opportunities;
- We must have policies that offer equal opportunities to women. Let’s not only find men dominating in all these opportunities;
- Locals should be supported in real estate opportunities and there should be a fund for equity support and
- We need partnerships with state financial institutions such as the National Empowerment Fund; Industrial Development Corporation, Public Investment Corporation and Gauteng enterprise propeller should play a significant role in funding these.
Let us come to terms that a successful entrepreneurial community cannot be built overnight and there must be a long view and commitment to enabling this to happen over years embracing, over time, both success and failure.
Also, there must be an environment of inclusivity where anyone with an interest in entrepreneurship is welcome to contribute to the process.
Therefore, any success in revitalizing township economies is down to the fact that entrepreneurs come up with ways to attract new investors, create new projects and get business founders to engage with each other to develop the economy of the township.
We cannot simply continue to lament that South Africans are not entrepreneurial enough without investing township economies.