Smileys are putting smiles on street vendors’ faces
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Cape Town - Well-known for being a third-generation business seller of “smiley” (boiled sheep’s head) in Gugulethu, Nokuzola Audrey Gaika has not only created a successful business in the height of the pandemic, but has also created employment for community members who lost their jobs.
Easily identified as a staple and one the most popular meals in township culture, smiley is known all around South Africa for being a uniting meal in cultural and local celebrations. On the corner of NY6 and NY147 is Mama uGaika’s hot spot.
Gaika’s inspirational story began with her starting her business after a near-fatal accident, which left her unable to work. From making only 10 sheep heads with one employer in her backyard, the business has grown substantially to selling 150 smiley’s a day, employing 15 men.
Gaika said that the business went through a number of challenges and despite several obstacles her business continued to grow. She said her knowledge of smiley came was from her grandmother. Gaika was one of 10 siblings, and recalls a childhood of cooking and selling smiley’s door-to-door.
“Combined with my grandmother’s teachings and my own experience in hospitality, I have been able to run a successful business that appreciates this traditional delicacy.”
Gaika said that the community was more than grateful for her creating employment for community members and their children. Despite immense success, as a local street vendor employing locals in her community she struggles without a government subsidy.
“As street vendors, we need the government to subsidise small businesses that have permits. We have created employment in communities after many jobs were lost and through local business we keep money within our communities, so we need them to assist us in continuing to create employment.”
Gaika’s advice to start-up local businesses is resilience. Businesses go through ups and downs, it requires patience to endure rough patches, she said. She added that she started in 2017 but started seeing growth and profit three years later.
Gugulethu councillor Luvuyo Zondani said small businesses were the backbone of communities like Gugulethu as they continue to sustain the economy and its people. He added that smileys, in particular, were popular and encouraged the spirit of ubuntu as they were a meal often shared between people.
“We follow business trends we grew up with, and in Gugulethu we all grew up eating it. The selling of meat has great significance to Xhosa people, there is a cultural pride in selling meat and sheep head as it says a lot about who we are as a people.”
In response to the investment of the City of Cape Town’s policies, Zondani said there was a lack of investment in local businesses in townships where it was most needed. He said that he was working hard, proposing inclusivity and infrastructure opportunities for communities like Gugulethu.
On of the employees, Sivuyile Nomungeka, said that he started working at the business after he matriculated as he was unable to find employment.
“We’ve learnt how to prepare and cook sheep heads, but most importantly, how to hustle and create our own business opportunities in the absence of formal work.”
Nomungeka said that as small street-vending businesses, their biggest need from the government was personal protective equipment, as they are required to wear masks, sanitise their work spaces and provide sanitisation for customers. He added that this was something small businesses cannot afford.