Eustace Mashimbye is the chief executive of Proudly SA.
JOHANNESBURG - As an ordinary South African who grew up in Mamelodi, east of Pretoria, I have witnessed first-hand the scourge of unemployment, including in my own household. Raised by working-class parents, my dad was a self-taught bus depot assistant manager for the Putco Bus company for many years and later became an entrepreneur.

My mom was a teacher for more than 30 years, but as steady as their employment was, I was alive to the realities that were faced by others around us.

As an entrepreneur, my dad tried his hand and dabbled in a few business ventures, including owning a spaza shop as well as a taxi business with a few minibus taxis in the fleet. This is where I was really introduced to the concept of business and employment.

During the years when the businesses were operational, we had a few employees, albeit at different times, including some family friends and relatives, and for long periods even my own brother.

When, in the face of challenges to both businesses, including volatility in the taxi industry and a decrease in demand for spaza shop products, we were forced to close the businesses down, I saw first-hand the impact of unemployment on not only those employees, but on their households, dependants and extended families who were the hardest hit.

Despite being young at the time, I understood clearly the poverty that results from the loss of jobs and income, and this included my brother.

One of the greatest lessons learnt from my time spent helping out in the spaza shop was the impact of fluctuating sales on the business. When sales were up, we called for more hands on deck, and everyone had their own roles and responsibilities within the business.

However, with the advent of increased competition, including from the entry into the area of major retailers/supermarkets coming into the township, sales plunged and we ran a leaner and leaner operation, saving the work for members of the family only, and not all of us were paid for our time given after school and on weekends.

Eventually, even a skeleton family staff complement could not keep the business going, and a reluctant decision was taken to close it down. At the same time, the taxi business was failing, and we relied heavily on my mom's salary to keep the family going, as well as to settle bad debts.

The tenacity my parents showed in the face of such difficulties has rubbed off on me and I appreciate having been exposed to both sides of the coin - success and hardship are often closer to each other than we imagine.

Whether a business is small or large, the same lessons apply. Local companies that produce and/or manufacture various products and services in South Africa are subject to the vagaries of business highs and lows.

Increased demand for locally made goods and services results in the retention of jobs and the possible creation of much needed new, decent and sustainable positions. Conversely, reduced demand for the local products supplied by these businesses as a result of consumers choosing imported options available to them in the market will result in the loss of existing jobs.

In addition, these choices cripple local businesses who often fail to recover and who, once they have laid off workers, will never again be in a position to re-employ people. Never underestimate the power of every single local purchase, as it contributes to job retention and creation.

Far from worrying about maintaining the lifestyle associated with the affluent years, once we had lost our businesses, my parents’ basic concerns were to keep a roof over our heads, put food on the table, send us to good schools, and make the best healthcare facilities available to us.

These are the challenges that are faced by so many South African households on a daily basis. A lot of them do not even have the equivalent of my mother's income to fall back on.

When my dad again found a regular job, we were all in a position to finish our schooling and secure good careers, for which we are grateful, as it helped break the poverty cycle for us.

How many families in South Africa can say they are in a position to weather the financial storm resulting from the loss of income due to retrenchments and companies downsizing?

Eustace Mashimbye is the chief executive of Proudly SA.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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