There has been quite a number of efforts directed at rejuvenating the township economy. Recent announcements regarding the Township Renewal Programme are just a few of those efforts. What is striking, though, is that there seems to be a lack of coordination to get these efforts channelled into achieving a single goal.
City of Tshwane mayor Kgosientsho Ramokgopa recently announced plans to make WiFi available in the city centre as well as the adjacent Mamelodi and Soshanguve townships. Although still only in the testing phase, the uptake of the technology has been reported as phenomenal, with up to 60 000 unique users reported for this phase in only a couple of months.
Other townships also have their initiatives of their own going on, with the e-Mbizo network providing free WiFi in Tembisa and yet another provider, Moova, going into the test phase of providing free WiFi for the taxi industry. All these initiatives can only mean there is a growing recognition of the role that wireless broadband can play in uplifting the township economy. But the intended benefits can easily be lost owing to the uncoordinated manner in which these initiatives are being carried out.
The power that technology has demonstrated in boosting businesses in the mainstream economy must not be limited to those businesses only. The assertion by the Gauteng Premier earlier this year that “every rand generated in the townships must be spent in those economies” can only become a reality when residents and businesses can access the power offered by technology in doing their everyday business.
By way of example, the recent mushrooming of value malls and fully fledged malls in the townships should provide a perfect opportunity for skilled unemployed people in the townships to offer their services in these projects. One should be able to use the power of the Google search engine to access all the businesses that offer a particular service in any particular township. Individuals who have a particular skill (with paperwork to prove it) should be able to add their names to a central database for a particular township so that they can always have access to opportunities as they come up.
If recent figures from cellphone giant Vodacom are anything to go by, all indications are that the township economy is readying itself for an unprecedented move into the data space. News24 recently reported that Vodacom had “seen data usage double year-on-year” in the townships to the extent that it has had to develop a unique model for its base stations that will cut lead times by up to 12 months in response to coverage issues in the townships.
If the Department of Small Business Development were to come up with a way of coordinating all these efforts aimed at ensuring that the township economy is not left behind in the technology sphere, the potential that can be released would go a substantial way towards easing unemployment in the country.
One of the biggest challenges in operating a retail business in the townships right now is that, unless one knows where to find certain services or businesses, one has to go outside the township economy to access the services. A coordinated broadband would mean that a comprehensive business map of every township would be available online, increasing the chances of every rand circulating in that economy.
I recently registered one of my outlets on Google’s Find My Business and I am blown away by the potential this holds for every township in South Africa. Much like one can find the nearest filling station, ATM, hospital or shopping mall, the extension of this technology to embrace the unique aspects of township business is limitless.
The entertainment and funeral industries both have elements that are unique to the township economy. If it could happen that all the home-based confectionery businesses as well as catering businesses are listed online, these businesses would be turned on their heads. No longer would a ‘street bash’ (party) run out of food for patrons because several businesses could be called upon in an instant to offer their services – matching supply to demand in an instant. What is required is government coordination at local, provincial and national levels.