South Africa's Local Tuck Shops Fight for Survival

    29 May, 2014


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Economics Report.

    Small markets are an important part of South Africa's economy, these businesses offer jobs in a country with unemployment rate of at least 25 percent. But immigrant-owned and international businesses are increasing their share of South African markets, that has hurt local traders who run little shops called spazas.

    John Stheole has owned his spaza for more than ten years. It is a small grey building in Dube village, in the Soweto area of the capital Johannesburg. His small store offers many kinds of goods from soap to sweets.

    South Africa's Local Tuck Shops Fight for Survival
    John Stheole has owned his spaza shop for more than a decade in Dube Village, Soweto, South Africa. (Photo Gillian Parker for VOA)

    Spaza means "just getting buy". The shops are found in non-white communities where larger, more official stores are not available or are too costly. There are about 100,000 spazas in South Africa, they employ 290,000 people. But few have paid attention to the part these stores can play in creating jobs.

    Research shows that what is called the informal sector in Africa is very large. Informal workers can be self-employed or wage earners. Last year, the African Development Bank said the informal sector provides about 55 percent of the economic productivity of African countries south of the Sahara desert.

    But business has been slow for Mr Stheole. He is competing with a nearby store run by a family from Pakistan.

    "I must say, I am struggling...," said Stheole.

    South Africa is the only country in the area where refugees and asylum-seekers can move freely, and have the right to work. South Africa is the only hope of living and working in peace for people who have fled countries like Somalia and Zimbabwe.

    But reduced profits for native traders and high unemployment rates have caused tensions in the country. Immigrants are accused of taking jobs from South Africans. Some also believe immigrants hurt South African shopkeepers by selling goods at lower prices. In September, more than 100 Somali-owned spazas were attacked during four days of unrest in the city of Port Elizabeth.

    The South Africa Spaza and Tuckshop Association (SASTA) is seeking to train local traders to build skills. Rose Nkosi is president of the association. She says local spazas offer the community credit and 24-hour service, that is something their competitors do not.

    And that is the Economics Report from VOA Learning English. I'm Mario Ritter.