“Sivithiziwe,” Soweto Women Entrepreneurs Struggle to Breathe

It’s been over a year since a national state of emergency was declared in South Africa to curb the spread of the global Corona virus pandemic. And, women entrepreneurs in the predominately black townships of Soweto say, they can barely breathe.
We recently investigated the effects of Covid-19 on women and children’s rights in the townships.

Some of the women approached by Sunrise News agreed to speak to us anonymously for fear of possible victimisation and embarrassment should they be identified. One lady declared; “Isivisthizile,” which means that Covid-19 lockdowns, curfews and other restrictions have left them completely destitute with no solution in sight in the midst of mounting bills and the daily operational needs of a business which require money or working capital. In addition to this, she still needs to pay her business overheads such as rent, debts, water and electricity bills which must be paid irrespective of the lockdown.

For Miss Ntombekhaya Saphula who runs IthembaLethu, a Child Care & Pre School Early Childhood Development Centre in Meadowlands, Zone 10, the impact has been devastating. For the better part of 2020, the pandemic left her homeless. It left her homeless from lack of income which meant that she was no longer able to afford to pay rent for her private dwelling.
However, while the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown measures to Level 1 meant that children could return to school, parents were unwilling to pay the 50% discounted school fees whilst their children were barred from attending the Day Care and Pre-School.
The lack of cooperation from parents proved to be the worst kind of disappointment for Ntombekhaya.
But help soon came after resuming operations in the from of sponsorships provided by Unlimited Child and Ilifalabantwana Foundations, who supplied them with PPEs, food parcels and teacher payment vouchers, in November last year.
Section 27 of South Africa’s constitution provides that everyone has the right to have access to social security including, appropriate social assistance for those who are unable to support themselves and their dependants. Ntombekhaya says government was very slow to provide a safety net.

The constitution further places a further obligation on the State to take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources to achieve the progressive realisation of this right. Many women work in the textile manufacturing, printing, retail, early childhood development, hospitality, tourism and transport industries.
While a good number of them did eventually receive Covid-19 Relief funds from government they still complain that the funds were not nearly enough. Many of them sent through their applications to the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (Sefa), set-up by government to provide financial loans and services to SMMEs and co-operatives in the country. Some benefited whilst others could not get through to Sefa.

Some got their electricity power supply cut off to their businesses paying high amounts for the reconnection to power.
Mrs Roselina Munyani, who runs a sewing Co-Operative, Balingani which had won a sewing contract with the Department of Social Development a week before a Covid-19 National lockdown was announced.
They were able to resume work when lockdown measures were eased in November albeit with a reduced work-load, which also means reduced pay. Mrs Munyani say that she will continue to work the full three year term of the contract whilst also continuing with other ad-hock commissions and wining more solicited work. When asked how do they and have been surviving, the answer was that they continued to work albeit for many with reduced work load than before the lockdown.

Women of all ages from young adults, middle age and pensioners find themselves in a sad state of affairs. Without work nor profit from their businesses it’s almost impossible for them to maintain a decent living for themselves and their dependants. Amongst their dependants are minors still at school or tertiary colleges whilst others are university under-graduates who nevertheless remain unemployed.
Young women entrepreneurs said in addition to Covid-19 restrictions they have also faced gender-based discrimination in the workplace. The women who are third generation co-shareholders of the Golden Printers in Soweto, claimed that some clients undermined them because of their gender.

Whilst inequality remains stubbornly high in the country, experts predict more job losses in the future in addition to the 2 million jobs already lost since lockdown. According to Statistics SA’s Quarterly Labour Survey, more women lost their jobs compared to men during the lockdown period. Black women in particular have the highest unemployment rate at 38, 5 % versus the general black unemployment rate of 35, 6 % when compared to other racial groups in South Africa. These trends are also consistent among self-employed women entrepreneurs.

The women say they expect the South African government to fulfil its obligation to eliminate poverty, gender inequality; grow an inclusive, vibrant and thriving economy for all its citizens whilst also simultaneously contributing to world peace, security and prosperity. In so doing South Africa will prove its commitment to the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution along with it’s National Development Plan Vision 2030. The United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and African Union vision 2063.

Dumi Mkhabela Soweto Sunrise News