During his 2014 State of the Province address Premier David Makhura emphasized the provinces commitment to establishing and supporting economically self-sufficient and vibrant township- based economies. The efficacy of small and informal economies relies on a significant immersion of township entrepreneurs into the mainstream economy, through government and private corporate involvement.
A 2014 World bank study found that rapid growth of township economies is consistent with the growth of formal economies. Over the past 30 years there has been recorded increased growth of informal economies across South East Asia and Latin America, this would suggest that the township economy is unlikely to dissolve itself, but will instead continue to incrementally thrive with the potential of becoming a major proponent of national GDP.
Leading development economists Ranis and Stewart have described the township economy as dichotomous, composed of a traditional informal sector, associated with “very low capitalization, low labor productivity and low incomes, very small size (three or fewer workers). Juxtaposed to a robust modernizing informal economy with developmental traits such as being “more capital-intensive, usually larger in size (as many as 10 workers), more dynamic in technology, often linked to the formal economy.
The latter description is a desirable structure for our townships, but unfortunately it is the former which categorizes our informal economies, that being stagnant and with little to no technological adaptations.
The question that has been top of mind during the current and previous administration is how can this be achieved. How can we, both provincial and national government, ensure that the informal township sector discover its full economic potential.
We need to bring the township closer, but what do we mean by closer? If we consider proximity to be a major determinant of access. The closer to those structures of economic activity, such as lessening cognitive distance, by placing think tanks, innovation specialists, business forums, policy developers in the township. There is a need for an advanced, different and progressive language to exist in the township, so as to ensure that our people have cognitive access to alternative ways of thinking. Second is social and spatial distance, what is the social distance of township residents to the city and its inherent economic character, and how can we devise methods to bring them closer to these economic hubs, not as consumers but as participants.
If we are to fully achieve this, it can no longer be business as usual, an innovative approach to aligning the economic culture of the township to that of the province is crucial by not only addressing spatial concerns of access and perspective but also supporting sustainable growth of existing and emerging township businesses.
These were the challenges addressed during the eKasi Summit hosted on 13 November 2018 at eKasiLab Mamelodi, Tshwane North TVET College Mamelodi, where industry role players such as Absa, NYDA, GEP, Auditor General and the City of Tshwane spoke to their respective roles where entrepreneurship is concerned and provided information on the ways in which they each support the growth of entrepreneurship through either funding and mentorship programmes.
The resounding message from each speaker was the essentiality of collaboration between entrepreneurs, assistance with access to funding for entrepreneurs and the necessity for industry players to adequately engage entrepreneurs for their specific needs.