With about 75% of South Africa’s youth currently unemployed and many small businesses struggling to survive amid the economic challenges brought about the COVID-19 pandemic, young women in Limpopo believe that entrepreneurship remains the only way to beat poverty.

Health-e News spoke to several young women who operate informal businesses within the Vhembe district, in the Limpopo province, who say that despite the interruptions caused by the pandemic to their businesses, they are still able to earn an income.

Mpho Gift Matodzi (23), from Makonde village, outside Thohoyandou, has been running an informal business in and around the Thohoyandou shopping complex, which does makeup, nails and hair styling. She said that although her business is now running slowly due lockdown restrictions, she is still able to earn enough income to sustain herself and her siblings.

“I have been running this informal business since 2017, and I have been making enough money to earn a living and to also support my siblings,” said Matodzi.

“But since the start of the pandemic, my business has been negatively affected as it depends mostly on events such as parties and weddings. Lockdown restrictions have put a stop to such events and businesses such as mine suffer financially, but even so I am still earning an income.”

Three million jobs lost

It’s been more than 500 days since government declared a national state of disaster and implemented lockdown restrictions in response to the outbreak of COVID-19. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre found that three million South Africans lost their jobs during this time and 42.7% of small businesses were forced to close their doors due to an inability to operate.

Despite this, Matodzi told Health-e News that she still believes small businesses are the solution to poverty for women who are struggling to find employment.

“My message to women is that they must not be scared to start something that can bring them an income, no matter how small it is. We must be the change that we want to see in our country,” she said.

According to the National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM), the food insecurity crisis among South African households is currently not as dire as during the initial hard lockdown last year, but the picture remains bleak.

“While fewer households are running out of money to buy food, household and child hunger have not decreased, and furthermore, the severity of hunger in households remains worrying. These results indicate that there is a new and higher equilibrium level of hunger and food insecurity in South Africa because of the coronavirus pandemic, and that the amelioration of child hunger should be a source of public concern,” the report said.

Still making a living

For Portia Mulaudzi, from Mpheni village, who sells Mopani worms, eggs sweets and fruit from her home, business has been slow, but she is grateful to still be able to earn an income, amidst the pandemic.

“Though things have been difficult, more especially during the hard lockdown last year, I am grateful that I am still able to earn an income to support myself and my three children,” said Mulaudzi.

She explained that having a small business that brings a small income is better than not having any source of income at all.

“Knowing that at the end of every month I am able to count how much I have made from my business brings peace of mind and is something I cherish. We know how difficult it is to find any type of a job in South Africa, so having a business which brings an income, no matter how small, it is very important,” said Mulaudzi.

According to the Statistics South Africa Quarterly Labour Force Survey of the first quarter of 2021, young people especially are struggling in the South African labour market. The country’s official unemployment rate was 32.6% and this rate was 46.3% among young people aged 15-34 years. This means one in every two young people in the labour force did not have a job in the first quarter of 2021.

A means to survival

For Thelma Tsitsila, a 23-years-old international relations graduate from the University of Venda, venturing into informal business is a way to earn an income while looking for formal employment. Tsitsila, from Maungani village, outside Thohoyandou, sells Mpesu, an African herbal libido booster.

“I decided to start an informal business for two reasons. Firstly, I come from a poor family background and wanted a means of sustaining myself and being able to buy essentials. Secondly, I was a final year student when I established my business after the reality of unemployment had hit me hard. I knew it would be devastating to not have any means of income after varsity,” said Tsitsila.

She told Health-e News that she earns enough to sustain herself and close relatives, and believes that her business has been boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Unlike for many others, my business actually attracted more customers due to COVID-19. The more couples stay at home, the better my business is doing,” said Tsitsila.

“I believe young women should be empowered to start small businesses as this way we can reduce the high rate of unemployment and poverty. Government needs to work on the implementation of policies that advance women economically,” said Tsitsila. – Health-e News