By: Anna Majavu
New research has found that small-town SMMEs near major state-owned game reserves are struggling to get work from these big parks, even though this work is one of the only ways that rural entrepreneurs can get their small businesses off the ground. Julia Giddy and Jane Rogerson from the University of Johannesburg’s School of Tourism and Hospitality investigated the third largest SA National Park (SANPark), the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape, and found that there was not even a policy to prioritise SMMEs or local businesses.
The park has the densest concentration of wild elephants anywhere on the planet and also houses rhino, black rhino, buffalo and leopard. At its peak just before the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 300,000 tourists visited Addo annually. But there was only one procurement manager for all four Eastern Cape SANparks stretching out to the Karoo, and so the elephant park sourced most of the suppliers of goods and services from the city of Gqeberha, about 85km away.
SMMEs also found it impossible to become established enough to do large jobs for Addo because the government did not pay an upfront deposit and took longer than 90 days to pay them after they had completed the work. “Significant upfront capital is required to complete projects both for materials and for labour,” found Giddy and Rogerson. The park had started two projects to support SMMEs – one was a contract for laundry services at its accommodation, and the other was to clean and maintain the ablution blocks.
But as the park bought the supplies and equipment and only relied on the SMME to provide workers, “once the contract expires, the business owners do not necessarily emerge with a stable business that can continue outside of the park since they are not left with any equipment”. “With contracts only lasting one year, it would be hard for a business to develop significantly to turn enough profit to continue the enterprise going forward,” they said.
The research also found that while small companies were given concessions to run guided game drives, luxury camps, and the elephant park’s restaurant and curio shop, “despite government commitments for the economic empowerment of disadvantaged communities, almost all the concessions belong to white owners from outside the area”. Giddy and Rogerson also found that “overwhelmingly the accommodation service sector in small towns surrounding the park was dominated by white-owned businesses”. And many of the small guesthouses where visitors to the park stayed were part of huge commercial citrus farms, further reducing the opportunities for black-owned SMMEs.