DM168

SA BUSINESSPERSON OF THE YEAR

Winner: Spaza shop owners; Runners-up: Wendy Alberts & Busi Mavuso

A spaza shop in Zwide, Port Elizabeth has been painted with public health messages to assist communities with information to fight the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Mike Holmes)

Spaza shop informal businesses are crucial cogs in the township economy.

Mention spaza shops and, for many people, what comes to mind are images of illegal immigrants who operate outside the law, pay no tax and, as a result, are often the victims of xenophobia. But this is a complicated sector, and there is far more to it than meets the eye of the average suburban shopper.

Spaza shops may be informal, meaning they are unregistered and largely cash based. However, they pay rent to local landlords, provide employment to thousands of people, source goods from local dealers and pay input VAT – which unregistered businesses cannot claim back.

They are a vital cog in the township economy, yet they are overlooked by the government, receiving little or no support. Just how vital their role is within communities has become patently clear over the past 18 months of lockdown.

The lockdowns, in their various iterations, caused economic deprivation and hardship on an unprecedented scale. Within weeks of the first lockdown in 2020, local community organisations began to report rising levels of hunger among pregnant women, young children, foreign nationals and vulnerable families. Starvation escalated alarmingly.

The Solidarity Fund and other donors distributed thousands of food parcels across the country, but food parcel distribution is expensive and dangerous.

It costs the government more than R1,000 to distribute a R700 food parcel through its Social Relief of Distress Programme, because of the expense of logistics and distribution. It is also open to abuse. In Mbotyi near Port St Johns on the Wild Coast, of the 200 food parcels officially allocated in May 2020, only five arrived for distribution.

Another solution needed to be found.

An electronic voucher system was proposed, but SA’s largest retailers wanted their own branded vouchers, and would not agree to an interoperable system. So the spaza owners stepped in. A voucher system was developed involving spaza shop owners, called Flash, which provides the technology for mobile vending to more than 170,000 spaza shops, and its competitor Kazang, which services a further 50,000 local traders.

The system was coordinated by a private foundation, the DG Murray Trust, and allowed a voucher beneficiary to receive an SMS message on her cellphone, telling her that she had been awarded a CoCare Voucher (typically to the value of R250) that could be redeemed at a Flash or Kazang spaza shop. She also received a follow-up SMS encouraging her to use the voucher to purchase specific nutrient-dense foods.

At the spaza shop, the unique number communicated via SMS was entered into the cash terminal and the recipient was able to purchase food to the value of the voucher. Millions of South Africans benefited from this programme, which is still running, albeit in a slightly different form.

A spaza shop in Duduza during national lockdown on April 20, 2020 in Ekurhuleni, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/OJ Koloti)

Of course, the small traders benefited from this system too, increasing the volume and regularity of their turnover. But that does not undermine the role they played in supporting the initiative.

“Small traders don’t have a lot of money themselves to feed their families, but will be the first to support community projects, the first to extend credit or share a half loaf with someone who cannot afford to pay for it,” says Carol Pieper, head of operations at Flash. Spaza shop owners are now supporting the vaccination drive, hanging posters in their small shops or on the outside walls.

This initiative meant that, during the worst of the lockdowns, people like Mam’ Agnes Ndarana of Mdantsane were able to secure additional provisions to support their families. Approaching 70, Mam’ Agnes looks after 24 children and teenagers who have no other home. Most came to her abandoned without documentation. She has managed to get child support grants for 10 of them, which means that, apart from donations she can secure, the “family” of 25 lives on R4,400 from child support grants and her old-age pension of R1,860 a month.

What the voucher project showed is that, although informal traders and spaza shop owners are “unseen” in the formal economy, they are willing to play a supportive role in their communities, despite the fact that they trade under tough, unsafe circumstances.

And although the popular narrative does not suggest it, many of these owners and operators are willing to be licensed and to pay taxes and municipal licences and service fees. “This requires that they have legal, social protection, and access to support services, which are largely out of their reach at present,” notes Ashraf Adam, a South African Cities Network board member.

But that is a story for another day. In the meantime, we salute spaza owners for the important role they played in bringing food relief to communities during a particularly difficult time. DM168

Restaurant Association of SA CEO Wendy Alberts. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

FIRST RUNNER-UP: WENDY ALBERTS

Restaurant Association of SA (Rasa) CEO Wendy Alberts talks fast. Very fast. And, right now, she seems to be talking faster than usual as the anxiety and apprehension of the restaurant industry settles around her shoulders.

Memories of last December’s sudden lockdown, which cost the industry dearly, are not far away. And as the Fourth Wave rears, the concern is that the government may be tempted to do the same again – just as life is returning to many restaurants.

Alberts, however, is hopeful this will not happen again. As one of several voices representing the industry, she has been particularly vocal in highlighting its plight. Earlier this year, she spent three days camped outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria to press home a point and hand a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Perhaps these efforts have not been in vain. “I believe there’s a better understanding of how the industry works, of the value chains, of the human impact. This is a fragile system at the moment, and a lockdown will be devastating,” she says.

Being a voice for the industry is not Rasa’s only purpose. The association provides business, technical and legal support as well. With a background in corporate finance and franchising, Alberts believes a solution can be found to most problems. After all, it is not in a landlord or supplier’s interest to see a business fail.

Aside from problem-solving, she is also doing a lot of loving. “Business can be lonely places when you are financially crippled. Sometimes people just need to reach out.” She works six days a week – taking Sundays off to be in nature with her twin daughters. But somehow it doesn’t feel like a lot of work. “These are not long hours. I love what I do – and there is a lot at stake.” DM168

Busi Mavuso, the energetic chief executive of Business Leadership South Africa. (Photo: Masi Losi)

SECOND RUNNER-UP: BUSI MAVUSO

Busi Mavuso, the energetic chief executive of Business Leadership South Africa, is our second runner-up for Business Person of the Year.

She is a thoughtful and articulate leader who is not afraid to speak truth to power – which she does regularly in her Business Day and Fin24 columns, as well as in her weekly newsletter, which usually lands in inboxes on a Monday before Cyril Ramaphosa’s “From the Desk of the President”.

Whether Mavuso is encouraging the adoption of vaccine passports, talking about the importance of institutional integrity, suggesting a review of South Africa’s labour legislation, or banging a drum for structural reform, her views are informed, robust and always on point. She enjoys the support of her constituency – big business – probably because they can cheer her on from the safety of their offices while she goes to war on their behalf. Although some may think Mavuso, a chartered accountant, has been “captured” by White Monopoly Capital, that would be to underestimate her.  

At heart, Mavuso is an activist. Transformation is not a nice-to-have, but an imperative, she says. As the oldest daughter of a single-mother teacher, she was determined to study, which she did by correspondence, finally achieving her CA 23 years after leaving school. She understands how difficult it can be to overcome the limitations of one’s background.

As she explained to DM168 in an interview in August, her greatest passion lies in advancing the young black African women’s agenda and the broader women’s agenda. DM168

***

DAILY MAVERICK PERSONS OF THE YEAR

Every year, Daily Maverick puts its mind to the question of who we should recognise in our annual Persons of the Year categories.

In the past, these decisions have been made after a bare-knuckle editorial brawl, but this year, we decided to do things a little differently. We had the bare-knuckle editorial brawl, but simply to arrive at a shortlist of nominees in each category. Using a new reader engagement tool called Hearken, we asked our online readers to cast their votes on who they think deserves the final nod. We also gave readers the option to choose their own candidate in any category in case they thought we had neglected anyone more worthy. The results were both expected and surprising.

On the whole, readers agreed with our shortlisted candidates, with a few exceptions. We had not considered Greta Thunberg as a candidate for International Person of the Year, but so many readers nominated her that she earned enough mentions to be a runner-up in that category.

Many objected to us only focusing on singers for our Artist of the Year and objected to the predominance of foreign singers in the category. Quite a few readers were critical of us leaving out African women and female contenders in general.

The journalists at Daily Maverick were mentioned several times as nominees for different categories of People of the Year – ah, thanks for the love, guys, but this time around we wanted to cast our net outside our inner circle.

The more than 800 readers who voted totally exceeded our expectations, because this was the first time we have opened People of the Year to readers’ votes.

Below are the categories. Read about the winners and runners-up in various categories below.

  • South African Person of the Year – a person who has had the broadest or most significant impact on the country as a whole.
  • Africa Person of the Year – a person who has made an outstanding contribution on the African continent this year.
  • International Person of the Year – a person who has had broad international impact or made an outstanding contribution this year.
  • South African Villain of the Year – there was no shortage of suggestions in this self-explanatory category…
  • International Villain of the Year – as above, but drawn from foreign fields.
  • South African Businessperson of the Year – not necessarily the person who made the biggest profit, but someone whose influence went beyond the balance sheets.
  • Community Champion of the Year – someone uplifting, defending and representing ordinary South Africans, often against all odds.
  • South African Polluter of the Year – individuals and entities which have succeeded in further dirtying our environment this year.
  • Our Burning Planet Heroes of the Year – the green warriors fighting for our planet’s survival.
  • South African Youth Champion of the Year – young people working to improve the lot of other young people.
  • Sportsperson of the Year – a sportsperson whose positive impact has been felt either on or off the field.
  • Sports Team of the Year – a team that has stood out from the rest in 2021 either on or off the field.
  • Artist of the Year – a hitmaker whose musical or social influence has towered above others.
  • Moegoe of the Year – someone whose behaviour perhaps falls short of Villain of the Year, but who has in some way acted idiotically.
  • Grinch of the Year – someone who qualifies as a spoilsport or killjoy. – Rebecca Davis/DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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