Small township retailers are going under at a rate of knots because of massive new shopping malls

Zweli Mokgata

Zweli Mokgata

While township shopping malls will provide a wide variety of goods and services to residents at cheaper prices, the mega-centres are hurt-ing smaller retailers, according to a University of South Africa (Unisa) study released yesterday.

"My own spaza shop in Diepkloof went under because of the Bara Mall," said South African Spaza and Tuckshop Association (Sasta) president Rose Nkosi. "I now have to sell out of my car on the streets. We had an average of 7000 members; now we are down to 4500. This shows that our members are struggling to survive."

The Unisa study found that the opening of a shopping mall in Soshanguve, north of Pretoria, resulted in businesses less than one kilometre away reporting a 75 percent decline in profits. Around 36,8 percent of shops located between four and five kilometres away reported a drop in profits.

Convenient access, lower prices and a greater range of goods "would suggest a negative effect" on the turnover and employment of small township retailers and spazas or tuck shops, said Andre Ligthelm of Unisa's Bureau of Market Research, author of the report.

In the past year more than five shopping malls have been built in Soweto to encourage people to spend on their own doorstep rather than having to go into the city

"The government is not including the people who are supposed to benefit from these projects," said Nkosi. "They say it's BEE, but the only black people they identify are Indian people. How can they be (previously disadvantaged) when they've always had money, even during apartheid?"

"We are trying to bring our members together," continued Nkosi, "But it's tough. How can I help other people when I'm also struggling?"

There are around 800000 spaza shops, hawkers and informal traders in South Africa, according to Jabulani Wholefoods Market owner Shadrack Mashele. "It is up to us, the wholesalers, to ensure the survival of small township business," he said. "If these small operators don't survive then we don't. They generate over R50billion a year."

Mashele said he had met about 115 spaza shop owners in an attempt to create strategies to stay competitive in the changing commercial landscape.