The development of the township economy cannot happen without an adequate infrastructure that supports township businesses, according to Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) CEO Tshokolo Nchocho. Addressing poor infrastructure was one of the measures that Nchocho discussed at the fourth installment of the Township Imbizo held by the Association of Black Securities and Investment Professionals (ABSIP) last week.
Nchocho challenged the current view of the township setting. “What kind of districts or regions should these townships be envisioned to be? As of today, township economies (shebeens, garages and supermarkets that are township based) are a consumption centre, in addition to labour sending places,” he told the imbizo.
“There has to be an effort to address land use and spatial planning because for whatever development we want to undertake if we continue to have growth in a random way without proper spatial planning. It will be difficult on a long-term basis to sustain vibrant township social systems and economies.”
Nchocho also said there was a need to link township businesses with markets that were outside the areas where they operated. “We need a concerted effort to create market linkages into the main economic hubs for township businesses,” he said. “Businesses grow to the extent that they serve bigger markets, so, if we envision a future where for example a manufacturer of any item wants to grow, (they have) to find opportunities to sell their product far beyond the townships they are located in.”
ABSIP president Polo Leteka Radebe told the meeting that in the past, townships used to be centres of commerce for small businesses. “In previous imbizos, we discussed how the advent of bringing large shopping centres and chain stores to townships has had the unintended consequence of killing businesses that we grew up depending on,” she said.
“What this infrastructure has done is to kill the bedrock of the township economy and we are seeing a flood of capital out of the townships into the major centres of commerce in townships, be they chain stores in townships or us wanting to leave the townships to procure better lives outside.” Radebe also said that it was important to facilitate, through the imbizo, a comprehensive discussion on the township economy that hindsight, was long overdue.
“Many of us are concerned that despite many parts of South Africa developing and industrialising, we have not seen the same level of economic development in townships, which is concerning because 60% of South Africans live in townships and we continue to see patterns of apartheid perpetuating even in this new era,” she remarked.
“It has become quite evident that even though we purport to be driving capital and development to townships, the reality is that all of these efforts in millions and billions don’t move towards the necessary shift required to see this upliftment.” Building and supporting the township economy has been earmarked by the government as key to growing the country’s sluggish economy.