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Seeing South Africa: Meeting Diepsloot’s dynamic youth entrepreneurs

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Seeing South Africa:  Meeting Diepsloot?s dynamic youth entrepreneurs Seeing South Africa: Meeting Diepsloot’s dynamic youth entrepreneurs

They are young, dynamic and solving problems in their community—Diepsloot township, a mixed formal and informal settlement of 139,000 peopleorth of Johannesburg. These are some of the most impressive young women I met on a cloudy summer’s day during my second visit to a South African township since my arrival in mid-September 2019; part of my immersion into my new home country, to better understand its challenges and, more importantly, its potential.

One such woman is Nondumiso Sibiya, 22, co-owner of Boombadotmob, a waste management company that is addressing the growing problem of illegal dumping in Diepsloot—a noticeable feature in unoccupied spaces and along the narrowing river that winds through the settlement.

Driven by a vision of Diepsloot as a clean and beautiful neighborhood, Nondumiso has created a social enterprise to solve this hazardous problem by facilitating the disposal of the waste in a responsible manner and monetizing the byproducts. Together with her co-owner, they go to neighboring suburbs to collect waste at its source, sort it and sell the garden refuse to compost sites for use by local farmers. They also collect building rubble for use in rehabilitating some of Diepsloot’s roads. In partnership with another local company, second hand bricks are recycled and sold to builders. For her efforts to clean up the environment, Nondumiso received the Fairlady Santam Rising Star Award in 2019. The award has led to nationwide magazine coverage and public speaking engagements that are increasing awareness about responsible waste disposal and promotion of a clean environment. Replicated or scaled, the positive impact of Nondumiso’s social enterprise could be extended across all townships and beyond the country. 

Tshukudu Pasha, a 30-year old fashion designer and tailor, is another such woman. She is co-owner of Alvada Creations, one of hundreds of microenterprises that line the winding the main streets of Diepsloot.  Alvada markets its fabulous African-inspired chic accessories and clothing for men and women on social media, and Tshukudu and her four coworkers manufacture the items within 24 hours of receiving an order. She told us that her inspiration comes from her late grandmother, Dora, who used to make church uniforms.

Since starting her company, Tshukudu has participated in the Torino Fashion Week in Italy in 2018, where she showcased her creations on an international platform as part of a program supported by the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), an entity of the South Africa’s Department of the Small Business Development. She also traveled to China for a month-long fashion design training course, with support from the Department of Trade and Industry. Government programs such as these illustrate that support does indeed exist for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). The question becomes how to best leverage this support at different stages in their growth cycles. For instance, Tshukudu has ambitions to grow her five-year-old business into one that can supply a major fashion retailer with a national footprint. For this, she needs a manufacturing and trading space larger than her current 30 square meters, along with more sewing machines and additional tailors, all of which require funding support. Connecting Tshukudu to appropriate support structures becomes crucial.

Unemployment is yet another noticeable feature in Diepsloot. A 2014 World Bank study, The Economics of South African Township with a Special Focus on Diepsloot, found that about 70% of Diepsloot residents were of working age, higher than elsewhere in the country due its relative proximity to economic nodes, such as Fourways and Lanseria. Despite this, youth mill around on a week day, as we observed on the day of our visit, consistent with the township’s high unemployment rate which stood at around 30% in 2014. Overall, the country has a persistently high unemployment rate of nearly 30%, with more than 50% affected.

Established in 1994, Diepsloot with an average population age 25 is like the rest of South Africa, which has mostly a young population. So, it was encouraging to see the bustle of businesses owned by young people.  On this visit, I also met several other young entrepreneurs who operate businesses in an array of sectors such as construction, creatives and personalized services such as hair and beauty, and a Wi-Fi café. Much like Tembisa, which I visited in October, Diepsloot is alive with energized and dynamic youth eager to solve the challenges of their communities.

I believe that with the energy and determination demonstrated by young people to solve societal problems, coupled with the wide range of government and private sector-led MSME support initiatives, including the incubation hubs in and around Diepsloot and across the country, can have a significant impact on reducing unemployment.

The key will be for the various stakeholders to consolidate and streamline interventions aimed at supporting entrepreneurship, towards a greater impact. This can be done through ecosystems that facilitate access to financial and technical resources, markets and value chains beyond the immediate location of SMMEs. As the World Bank Group, we stand ready to join efforts with all role players to do just this, bringing our global experience where such gains have been realized, so we can improve the economic fortunes of young people like Tshukudu and Nondumiso and their neighborhoods.

I look forward to my next township visit, which will be outside of Gauteng province in the new year!


Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly

World Bank Country Director for South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini

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