By: Anna Majavu
Proudly South African’s Happy MaKhumalo Ngidi is determined to use her role as chief marketer at the country’s foremost marketing campaign to give ordinary people a sense of “belonging and dignity”, and fix the social problems caused by the skyrocketing rate of unemployment. The campaign exists to connect locally owned businesses, many of them SMMEs, to markets. Ngidi believes it can make a huge difference in creating more employment and sustaining the jobs that already exist. “When we begin to deal with this persistent problem we have in the country, which is unemployment, when we try to fix all of that, then even the many social ills will be slowly taken care of. People just want some sort of belonging and dignity. When you have a job, that reaffirms that you are able to live,” she told Vutivi News.
She says what drives her is supporting entrepreneurs and SMMEs to access services they could never dream of securing on their own so that they become profitable. A marketer of 20-years standing, Ngidi is herself an SMME owner. She founded Bella Wines, named after her daughter Isabella, last year. Ngidi believes that buying local should become a way of life for all consumers, and not confined to the occasional purchase of something uniquely South African. Her greatest desire is that everyone should devote their buying power to locally produced products before buying anything imported.
It is a tough task to conceive of and direct “relatable marketing campaigns” that convince the public to buy locally made goods and products. Ngidi spends a lot of time trying to highlight the importance of job creation in the value chain of all the different economic sectors. “We have a responsibility to localise first, because the more we localise, the more we create a demand and the more products we produce locally,” she says, adding that the Proudly South African campaign’s backbone is entrepreneurship and small business. “In the absence of jobs and the private sector being unable to absorb every graduate, what will then happen to the people who can’t find jobs? When they do start small businesses, it is in that spirit that those businesses have to work and be successful.”
Some of the services to SMMEs that Ngidi oversees include arranging TV and radio interviews and undertaking annual tours of rural areas to reach out to small businesses even if they are not members of Proudly South African. “We have a responsibility to go all over the country and expose businesses in those areas that are doing great work. They also need market access, and they try to make a difference in their communities,” she says, adding that the campaign also does its best to create a huge network of different companies with whom they can connect small businesses.
Lately, she is big on exposing little-known small enterprises to the public at expos and festivals. She has been told by the SMMEs that she has placed at these events that they are thrilled with the profit margins they make there. At a recent wine expo visited by 2000 people, 30 local winemakers of whom 70% were women, made tens of thousands of rands in profit. “They all ran out of stock and had to go and borrow to be able to sell to the market for the full three days,” Ngidi says. At a music festival attended by 20,000 people, she took 16 Proudly South African SMMEs along to sell food, drinks, bucket hats and “nice comfortable shoes”. “It was so heartwarming to hear from them that the bottom line was taken care of, and the bottom line is money they make at these platforms.”
Proudly South African also arranges meet-ups at trade shows with buyers who are looking for products ranging from locally produced cutlery to dishwashing liquid and serviettes. Ngidi is also optimistic about the future of the township economy, which can often be a bleak place where unemployed people run survivalist enterprises and barely make ends meet off the profit. On starting an SMME, she says owners must be prepared to invest all their time into learning how businesses work. “If you don’t have the time and the energy and the focus and the discipline to give it your all, don’t do it. [It is] a not-so-rosy and pleasant environment out there, because everybody is trying to survive… with that said, a lot of businesses make it, but it is entirely up to your inner person. What you do behind the scenes matters the most,” she says.
For Ngidi, optimism is non-negotiable. “We’ve got to think like that. We have major challenges in the country. The elephant in the room is the energy crisis and that on its own is making it a nightmare for small businesses to try and operate. As an economy, as a people, we just hope that the future could be better and that we could all make a difference,” she says.