“If this lockdown continues, I’m afraid I will have to sell some of my equipment to survive.”

As the South African national lockdown heads into its fifth week, informal business owners are concerned that yet another extension could bring an end to their business operations and their savings. Wits Vuvuzela spoke to two informal business owners in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape to find out how they are coping with the lockdown. 

Siyabulela Mabuto, a vehicle mechanic who runs his own repairs shop. He says he is worried he won’t have much of a business left should the lockdown continues. “If this lockdown continues, I’m afraid I will have to sell some of my equipment to survive.” Mabuto, a father of one, says that the lockdown has meant that he can’t support those dependent on him because his business has been shut since the lockdown began on Thursday, March 26. As the primary breadwinner for his  mother and daughter he says, “It [the lockdown] has had a bad impact on me because I can’t pay my bills, support my family or even pay the people that work with me.”

Bukelwa Nkopane, a tavern owner and mother of one, says the lockdown has left her helpless and unable to support her family. “Financially [the lockdown] has been a drawback as there’s no money coming in. It has affected my plans for the business and personally, it’s been traumatising. I’m finding it difficult to support my family as I don’t know how long the lockdown will last,” she says. Nkopane adds that she and her husband support their parents.  “My father is in the Eastern Cape, but I live with my father in-law. He is sickly because of age and is very much dependent on the income we make for medicine,” she says.

According to an article written by Eddie Rakabe in Fin24 on Thursday, April 16, the informal business sector provides employment for a significant proportion of South Africans. “For South Africa, informal employment accounts for 36% of non-agricultural employment. It is the third-largest employer after the community and social services and the wholesale and traders sectors with a total headcount of just under 3 million people”, reads the article.

Consulting firm PWC notes in a document titled: Thinking through the possible Economic consequences of COVID19 for South Africa, seen by Wits Vuvuzela that the worst case scenario of the lockdown could be a spike in unemployment. The document notes, “The unemployment rate could increase from 29.1% in February 2020, to 47.6% post-lockdown.”

When asked about how her customers have reacted to business closures, Nkopane said, “Its difficult for me because I live in the same yard as my business, so its hard avoiding customers that want me to sell. But I don’t want to break the law.” She adds that the closure of her business means she can no longer pay her staff. “I have three people that are always helping me out, because of the shutdown, I can’t afford to pay them because nothing is coming in,” Nkopane said. 

Mabuto who works alone at his business most of the time says the closure of his business has put a strain on his relationship with customers especially since majority of them are taxi drivers. “It [lockdown] has put me in a tight corner, some customers understand lockdown rules and others do not understand them and pressure me to provide my services, and I can’t do that,” he said. 

FEARTURED IMAGE: Ndayi Tyres shop in Khayelitsha. Photo: Akhona Matshoba