By: Tebogo Mokwena
Free State-based businesswoman S’busisiwe Sithebe is one of many small enterprise owners whose businesses have stopped operating because of the crippling energy crisis. She has warned that even if load-shedding was fixed, it would cost even more money to revive her business, which has lost an estimated R250,000 in revenue. Sithebe is an example of many small businesses facing closure due to the ongoing power cuts, and Small Business Institute (SBI) CEO John Dludlu has called on the government and the financial sector to implement drastic interventions to help save SMMEs.
Speaking to Vutivi News, Sithebe, whose business Buska Foods operated in Kroonstad, said that she could no longer pay rent or her employees’ salaries because, for the past six months, her business has barely made it. She has now decided to pursue other entrepreneurial avenues. “It’s heartbreaking because I spent so much time and money building the business, complying, and making sure it breaks even,” she said.
Sithebe’s business started in 2018 and produced vegetables and agro-processed goods such as pureed carrot, sweetcorn salad, and crushed chilli. After years of struggling, she was able to make a name for herself in the Free State, supplying various outlets and individuals. She even appeared on the reality TV show Boss Lady, which significantly bolstered her business. But not even this was enough to save the business. “I could not deliver the fresh produce because they needed to be kept in fridges in order to avoid getting spoiled, and our fridges are always off,” she told Vutivi News.
“The government even gave me a few interns to gain work experience, but because I was paying them from my own pocket, I told them to stay home in November because I wasn’t making money anymore. “We were supposed to enter into a contractual agreement with a retail store to supply them with our products for six months, but because of load-shedding, this opportunity has gone out of the window,” Sithebe’s said.
The businesswoman said she could not afford a generator, and even if she could, it would cost a lot to maintain. “I took the decision to leave everything as it is until I either find a solution or explore other avenues,” she said. “This has affected my mental health badly such that I am even attending counselling sessions.” Another small business owner, Shanaaz Bailey, said her Randburg property business, BaileyProp, faced closure due to load-shedding as she was losing an estimated R50,000 a month.
“Most of the properties in the area I operate in depended on me because of my service delivery,” she said. “However, because of load-shedding we have interrupted access to the internet and our lines are off, and those that want to sell, buy or rent move to other property companies. “Our fridges and laptops are damaged and we had to buy new ones.” Bailey described the situation as unacceptable and has called on small businesses to embark on some kind of collective mass action.
“We need to do more than just protest or march because this won’t stop anytime soon,” she said. Meanwhile, SBI CEO John Dludlu has welcomed the announcement that load-shedding has been downgraded to stages four and five, but has described this as a temporary reprieve. “The road for SMMEs going forward is uncertain,” he told Vutivi News. “Two things are evident for the small business ecosystem: very few are starting businesses, and those that exist already are not expanding. “We will start to see the impact in the next employment figures and in liquidations,” he warned.
Dludlu said that the government and financial institutions should consider soft loans and concessional finance schemes to help out SMMEs. “The government can also supply UPS (Unlimited Power Supply) devices and generators to small businesses through some kind of subsidy scheme rebate system,” he noted. Eskom has warned that load-shedding is here to stay for years.