Despite many encouraging words from our President and hundreds of billions of rand aimed at assisting South Africans in recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, we are still waiting. There is still no sight of the money, it certainly has not filtered down to township SMMEs.

It does not matter how positive you want to be when looking at this situation, the fact is that none of us saw this coming. We are still trying to dust ourselves off. As an entrepreneur and businesswomen, if I knew that 6 months later I would find myself in this situation, we would not have opened a third shop in Midrand (Gauteng).

But we had hope when the President made a passionate plea for banks and other government institutions to support SMMEs and entrepreneurs. The devastating part was that we did not anticipate all these major financial institutions would use normal lending practices when it is not business-as-usual anywhere in the world. 

The SMME sector has the best potential for growth post COVID-19. It is the sector that creates 30% of the total employment in SA. However, if SMMEs do not receive oxygen to get to the other side alive, what will happen to them and the jobs they support? I will leave the answer to you. It does not matter which sector one represents.

What matters?

While the government is focusing on the bottom of the value chain by banning liquor and alcohol around this time, people’s homes and cars are being repossessed and their hopes are being shattered. The Minister of Health and his advisers keep saying this virus is here to stay, we must learn to live with it. Where? Alongside the homeless and hungry?

This is a crisis and it is not about who smokes or who drinks. It is a crisis about who has something to eat and who has a future. This is a crisis about living and dying – life and death – and for me, as a mother who has built and shaped the township economy, it is about a legacy for future generations so that we do not leave behind a generation that will forever be dependent on a social grant.

Poverty was the hallmark of my youth. It is a colonial scar and I wanted to be part of those that eradicated it. 

Township is a community, many of the small and independent businesses in this environment create their own township ecosystem by supporting each other. The Shisanyama is not simply a restaurant with an interesting gimmick, it forms the hub of the community where people gather to enjoy themselves and be part of their rich African culture, heritage and identity. Shisanyama becomes the heart that pumps life to the other small and emerging businesses. 

A microcosm of the townships in SA

These problems are not unique to Imbizo Shisanyama or Tembisa in Gauteng. They are occurring in every township across South Africa. Even in middle-class homes where people have been working hard to make a good life for themselves and saving for their retirement, jobs are being lost and people are losing hope.

For some reason, those families with retirement savings are not allowed to touch them, not even a fraction of their own savings to help their families through these hard times because they have to stay in the hands of the large multi-billion rand companies until you reach 60 or 65. And if you end up losing your home, starving, without the ability to pay for medical care for your family in the meanwhile, that’s just too bad.

What is government thinking? Have they considered the implications of their rules and regulations? Where is the assistance they promised? Who exactly has their hands on the R500 billion?
Why is government focusing on irrelevant issues when there are millions of people who need help and are rapidly losing hope as they become jobless. Is the government purposefully creating a dependency culture among our people? 

Imbizo Shisanyama is the cultural heart and a beacon of hope for the township community. Every business and person in this ecosystem has worked too hard and built too much for ourselves, by ourselves to see a government wipe it out with ill-conceived regulations, no matter the good intentions. We do not want our future generation’s walk to economic freedom to become as long as the walk to political freedom was. 

As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I do not want to see the rebirth and spread of dependency in my mature years. We have come too far. We have fought too hard. We have achieved too much to watch it all disintegrate before our eyes.

The hope that kept Tata Madiba and other stalwarts strong in jail was that Freedom is Coming. Perhaps we can also, as the number of unemployed keeps increasing, hope the government will ease the legislation and allow us to have a portion of our pension fund money to weather this horrific storm. This is the oxygen so many need to come out alive on the other side if we are to survive. God Willing. Who knows, but maybe relaxing this legislation is the very thing needed to catalyse a new generation of entrepreneurs in our country?

Rita Zwane, founder of BUSY CORNER Imbizo Shisanyama and author of The Poverty of the Mind