In the week that the country waited with bated breath for the national executive committee (NEC) of the ruling party to decide the fate of President Jacob Zuma, the secretary-general of the party, Gwede Mantashe, said at a press conference that among the many issues the NEC had discussed was how the economy could be revived by “turning this country into one huge workshop, more especially the township space”.
As recently as the first week in December, Gauteng Premier David Makhura said that the provincial government’s plan to revitalise the township economy by spending at least 30% of its procurement budget on businesses based in the townships was bearing fruit. Makhura said at the Gauteng Legislature: “There is ample evidence to demonstrate that, step by step, we are succeeding in catalysing sustainable and meaningful economic activity in our townships. We want to make the township economy a critical player in Gauteng’s economy.”
He further stated: “We want to ensure that there is an appropriate legal and regulatory framework . . . We need to review some of the laws that don’t promote the growth of small, medium-sized and microenterprises and township entrepreneurs. We want to promote productive activities in the townships; we must produce goods and services in the townships.
“In the 2016/17 Budget period, government has already spent R6.8-billion in township businesses in 1 600 townships.”
The Gauteng government has shown its commitment to growing the township economy in that, through its projects, it has already identified up to 700 township businesses to be introduced to government’s larger suppliers, with the aim of integrating the businesses into government’s supply chain. Through the Township Economy Revitalisation Programme, government is ensuring that the township economy is prioritised, as it is at the coalface of providing employment in the townships, which are bearing the brunt of an economy that has slowed down considerably.
The more townships businesses that are able to play a meaningful role in the mainstream economy, the more it becomes natural that discussions and plans concerning the mainstream economy automatically include the township economy.
A good example of this is the inaugural Abantu Book Festival, which was held in Soweto in early December, with events divided between Eyethu Lifestyle Centre and the Soweto Theatre. These types of events have never been considered to be events that can take place successfully in a township setting. But the festival’s director, renowned author Thando Mgqolozana, and curator Panashe Chigumadzi pulled out all the stops to ensure that the book festival was of a standard equal to, or even better than, those traditionally associated with mainstream economy cities and venues.
The attendees on the first day included esteemed authors like former Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court Dikgang Moseneke, who stated that his memoirs had been launched in Khayaletshi township, in the Western Cape. That people of the calibre of the former Deputy Chief Justice deem it worthy to spend their time launching projects in the township economy can only point to the success of the projects that have ensured that the township economy is brought up to the level of the mainstream economy.
Organising a festival such as the Abantu Book Festival and ensuring that African Flavour Books can set up and manage a pop-up bookshop at the venues are sure signs that the infrastructure development in the township economy is catching up to the rest of the economy. The attendance of literary giants like Fred Khumalo, Niq Mhlongo, Eusebius McKaiser and Zukiswa Wanner at the book festival can only ensure that the township economy moves into the future as more than a one-trick pony. Townships are not just about spaza shops – they can be as diverse as the mainstream economy.