VISION: Townships across the country can give the economy a much-needed boost.
Mega townships in South Africa attract more than 30% of job seekers on an annual basis, who choose to stay in these areas while seeking employment because of a lower cost of living. Despite this increasing the rate of unemployment in such townships, it provides big opportunities for innovators in the business sector.

As much as townships can be blanketed with social ills such as drugs, robbery, crime, etc, they remain highly lucrative for businesses.

A sad factor is that the township economy is never accounted for nor thoroughly researched to establish the number of residents, total turnover of businesses, contribution to local GDP and employment levels.

What cannot be disputed is the fact that they provide massive turnover on a weekly basis to major local and national retailers that, if accounted for, could be more than R800million a month. For example, a regional manager revealed in 2014 that their store was making R7m a week, and another very small one in Makhaza showed a R200 000 turnover on a bad day in 2009.

A need exists for thought leaders, academics, entrepreneurs, community builders and other relevant stakeholders to come together and formulate a leveraging model that would turn these townships into major economic hubs, create employment, contribute to the combating of crime and bring major investments in partnerships with local municipalities.

The municipalities have a major role to ensure thriving townships by introducing by-laws that are business-friendly, quick and accountable turnaround strategies, especially on releasing of unused property for light and medium industries that would create job opportunities.

From 2009, we have made several strides in having greater role-players invest in local townships, but the “red tape” has been a major barrier, leading to unused land being illegally occupied after five or more years standing idle. For example, the Cape Flats lost a R250m project for theatre production in 2009 because of red tape, and there are many other examples where more than R800m has been lost to township economy for the same reason.

There is a great appetite for private investment in the townships, but it is being stymied by red tape, social ills and gate-keeping. These hurdles could be easily overcome as there is constant innovation in doing business.

In the Cape Flats, we have more than 200 internationally renowned athletes, artists, community builders and entrepreneurs, who have been global ambassadors.

Yet there has been no proper infrastructure where these leaders could impart their skills, mentor, create jobs and cement the local economy. We have Benni McCarthy, Mzonke Fana, Andrea Dondolo, Pauline Malefane, Ringo Madlingozi, Sylvia Mdunyelwa, Noel Daniels, Peter Motale, Shamiel Kolbee, Luvuyo Rani, Mzuvukile Magwaca, Spiwo Xapile, Sihle Tshabalala, Phumza Maweni and Ashraf Allie. The list is endless.

Soccer alone gets massive talent from the townships on a yearly basis, yet there is no plan to accommodate this talent, and local promising clubs get sold on a regular basis, missing an opportunity to execute a plan to play at professional levels such as the PSL.

In Soweto, millions of rand are made on a soccer days, ranging from bed and breakfast businesses to sport clothing, transportation and telecoms.

An opportunity exists for Cape Flats townships to have their own stadium with a capacity of 50000 and own theatre that drives local artists daily until midnight with a capacity of at least 5000 delegates.

At Laphumilanga Youth Development Association, we have been embarking on a campaign to bring together all thought leaders in the 14 townships of the Cape Flats to advise, partner and chart a way to ensure the townships have lasting legacies. A number of these personalities have agreed to come on board, and we need infrastructure and tools that are independent but which co-operate with local, provincial and national governments in meeting the National Development Plan objectives.

Laphumilanga, in partnership with the Mayoral Urban Regeneration Programme and Khayelitsha Community Trust, will host the Jobs and Careers Summit tomorrow at Sizimisele Senior Secondary School in Khayelitsha. There are also great action plans that will lead to our Global Entrepreneurship Week in November. Among the key deliverable initiatives is a R5m crowdfunding model that will be given to deserving innovative youth-run entities.

* Mthobeli January is the director of Laphumilanga Youth Development Association, deputy chairperson of the economic and finance portfolio of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He writes in his personal capacity. In the last three years he was invited to present “Tapping township economy” by the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town to German MBA students from Hochschule Kempten University of Applied Sciences. He also sat with a panel of researchers (professors and associate professors) from the UCT and Cape Peninsula University of Technology on retail research in the Western Cape which was commissioned by the Wholesale and Retail Seta, and has attended a host of conferences and empowerment models dealing with Africa and township economy.

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

Cape Argus