Sebokeng small businesses impacted harshly under COVID-19 lockdown

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Small businesses in townships are suffering as most depend solely on day-to-day hustles to make ends meet. This includes take away food outlets which are partly banned as per lockdown rules.

‘Skhambane’ (or kota) is a famous township version of the bunny chow, and is what most township fast food outlets serve on almost every busy corner in many neighbourhoods. Sis Martha is one of the local self-employed workers in this flourishing business. “We absolutely have no choice but to open our businesses as this is our only income. If I close shop, there is no food for me and my employees,” she said.

Her ‘skhambane’ take away shop in Zone 11, Sebokeng (Gauteng) has been intermittently open, since before level four lockdown was introduced. Opening a few days a week has been one of the way of trying to not deliberately break lockdown regulations. But a van of police has stopped at Sis Martha’s shop for a regulations check on at least one occasion, and demanded that the shop close.

It is already difficult for many who are dependant of this sort of business. Many of these take away food outlets have mushroomed across many townships, and competition is fierce. The lockdown has caused many of these food outlets to stop operating, along with street vendors. But many like Sis Martha have chosen the risk of trying to earn a little money to feed their families.

George, 28, sells fruits, sweets, chips, and drinks in Zone 11. He said, “I went to my local councillor to ask him about a permit to operate my business. He referred me to the Social Development local office at Houtkop.” Houtkop is the local town where the Emfuleni Municipality has its offices in Sebokeng. “I went to the Social Development office at Houtkop,” said George, “and I was referred back to my local ward councillor and told about a database. When I got to him [the local ward councillor], he started telling me about food parcels! I am still waiting for him and his food parcels,” he said with frustration.

Tashe from Sudan operates a tuck shop, in Zone 11, and employs a Malawian man to help him in the shop. “My business is situated next to the clinic and we are not going to escape this pandemic,” he said. “People line up every morning next to my shop, queuing for the clinic. I have arranged for masks for me and my employee. We have sanitisers and our customers have no access inside our shop as they always stand outside the door on the step to buy. This has always been the practice since we started operating here”.

Karibu! met with another ‘skhambane’ shop owner in Zone 11. Paul lives with his wife and little daughter in a rented room in Zone 12. Paul is a retrenched electrician who use to work on the mines in Rustenburg. When Anglo Platinum retrenched many of their workers in 2017, Paul was one of the victims who had to find new ways to make ends meet. “I left Rustenburg after staying there for more than five years, and working at a few of Royal Bafokeng Platinum mines,” he said. “I started a small food take away business to feed my family. At least since I started working with my wife, we have been able to hire a few people to assist us in the business. People come to assist and when they get better opportunities they leave,” he said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is something of a strange disease because now, we are suffering worse,” Paul said. Hygiene is one of the prime concerns for take away food outlets and this is ostensibly why the regulations have banned take away outlets from operating. Paul said, “We use water all the time so we can wash hands regularly with soap and wear masks while working. We have sanitiser for our customers and we have enough space for social distancing inside and outside the yard. “People still come and buy ‘skhambane’ because it is what they like here in the township,” he said.

This article was submitted on 6 May 2020. You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and Karibu! Online (, and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.

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