Gauteng Premier, David Makhura is constantly talking about the province embracing the 4th Industrial Revolution. During the hard lockdown, township businesses and entrepreneurs who were not tech-savvy lost revenue because they were not able to trade due to the harsh restrictions that were imposed by the government to help curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year the World Trade Organisation (WTO) issued a report on e-Commerce and the huge advantages it holds for trade and retail during the Covid-19 pandemic. It gives insights into the way in which businesses will have to change until such time that a vaccine is found for Covid-19.
In its report entitled e-Commerce, Trade and the Covid-19 Pandemic, the WTO noted the following: “The enforcement of social distancing, lockdowns and other measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has led consumers to ramp up online shopping, social media use, internet telephony and teleconferencing, and streaming of videos and films. This has resulted in spikes in business to consumers (B2C) sales and an increase in business to business (B2B) e-commerce.”
This trend worldwide, including in South Africa shows that if we as a country do not fully embrace the 4th Industrial Revolution our economy, especially the township economy will stagnate. The digital economy is something that needs to be looked at. Let’s look at a simple industry like that of fresh produce. All over Gauteng, you have hundreds of informal traders who sell fruit and vegetables at an affordable cost – much cheaper than if you were to buy fresh produce at a large retailer.
During the first two months of the lockdown they were unable to trade and when this regulation was changed, they had to apply for a special permit to trade as an essential service provider. Now imagine if we had a programme in Gauteng geared towards the informal economy that equipped those who worked in the industry with basic knowledge of how to use technology to showcase their product offerings, we would not have had informal traders going against the regulations and having their goods confiscated.
Ideally, the Department of Economic Development together with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller (GEP), should work together to find a way to use technology innovation to assist the informal traders to embrace the digital space. Furthermore, to make it work they would need to be provided with a mode of transport to be able to deliver their goods and services. Previously I have called on government to make Tuk-Tuks available to the informal traders as a way to help them get their goods to their customer base.So, the product offering or service would be similar to the online shopping experience that customers use when shopping from bigger retailers, but instead this concept will focus on the township economy and does not just have to be limited to the informal economy. The potential for the creation of jobs in this sector alone would be great. It would give our youth and women an opportunity to create their own job opportunities with little assistance from government. But, in order for this to work government needs to commit the time and resources needed to help revitalise the township economy over the next few years. It’s not that the tools are not available because they are.
- Makashule Gana is a Member of the Provincial Legislature and DA Gauteng Shadow MEC for Economic Development