Dashiki Dialogues: Protect the second economy

2012-09-22 13:02

My old friend with a beret and a penchant for tough politics says our second economy is under occupation.

This was perhaps too strong an observation when we consider the details.

Okay, I write assuming everybody knows that the second economy refers to the lower strata of our national trade or business ecology.

These are spaza shops, shebeens and hawker stalls that keep low-income entrepreneurs in the townships and beyond from going hungry.

You can send royalties to former president Thabo Mbeki for coining that tag.

I was sharing a morning walk in the hood with this elder when the chatter turned to a survey of the wounds of the land.

You see, he used to walk these same streets in the 70s, before his exile to European winters.

Back then, the likes of Steve Biko would visit to break bread over what would become marathon debates about the role of culture and self-reliance in community-building.

That was then . These days, my old friend is silver-haired and the hood has nyaope, unemployment and depoliticisation to contend with.

Our walk took us past wayward boys and girls high on god-knows-what.

Some of these boys looked like they’d since taken to sleeping on the streets – a new mark of how demobilised the townships have become.

These are things we used to only see in the cities.

Our reflective chatter returned to small businesses and complaints levelled against the rise of immigrant-run shops.

These are mostly run by Somalis, Chinese and others who’ve come here looking for a better life.

The old man asked how it was possible to have the whole township’s shops run by outsiders.

This surely makes everybody involved vulnerable and insecure?

Certainly the state can see the potential for conflict and violence in this situation? Criminal elements find it easy to take advantage where victims are seen as unfriendly outsiders.

We saw this in 2008 during the orgy of violence against African immigrants.

Consider the rumours of unemployed locals renting out spaces in their RDP houses to foreigners who run spaza shops.

In turn, they take food and other goods on credit until they work up such large debts that they lose these houses to their enterprising tenants.

This, surely, will ferment reprisals and vengeance by these outsmarted poor?

Regulation is especially needed here – just as state regulation in the first economy means the likes of Walmart aren’t simply left to exploit free-market forces when they come into the country.

Our big businesses are protected by regulation.

So then, the less financially strong shopkeepers must enjoy protective regulation too.

As the dialogue with my grey friend moved to other schisms, I felt the weight of trying dashikis my generations are charged with fitting.

»Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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