SA’S FUTURE – Is the Table sturdier than before?

By Steuart Pennington

Clearly, there is much water that needs to flow under the bridge in the next few weeks/months as the GNU finds its feet. Surely there will be many hiccoughs along the way.

But does this mean we face an inevitable choice of a range of pessimistic vs realistic vs optimistic scenarios as our newly betrothed party-political bedfellows learn how to share their bed space?

I think not.

Strong tables have four legs. It is my proposition that in the past few months much has happened to change the strength of our table.

Leg 1: The Changing role of the State; Coalition governments, local, provincial and national and the GNU – better prospects

Leg 2: Private sector initiative through B4SA, working with government – considerable re-building

Leg 3: Civil society oversight and contribution through 150 000 registered NGO’s – assisting where government is failing.

Leg 4: A vigorous informal sector contributing R1 trillion to GDP and engaging 8 million citizens – reducing real unemployment

This represents the way forward, not a jumble of scenarios, we are on the road to an improved future.

Leg 1: The changing role of the State

As John Endres CEO of the Institute of Race Relations wrote last year, long before the poorly predicted election results of 2024, he says, “In considering the changing role of the State a useful framework for thinking about this assesses the role of the state along two axes. The first axis is whether the state plays an enabling role or one that is obstructive. The second is whether the state is expanding or receding. Combining these two axes’ results in four quadrants.” The first quadrant named that of a developmental state (enabling and expanding), which happened in South Africa 1994 to 2007; the second named a detrimental state (expanding and obstructing), which happened 2008 to 2017; the third an emasculated state (obstructing and receding), 2018 until the present; the fourth he postulated, a lean state (receding and enabling). (See the diagram below)

Well, I ask isn’t that what we are witnessing right now?

The changing role of the State: GNU Prospects

·       Ruling party power and competence declines, less and less voter support

·       Rise in private sector initiative, fixing state failures

·       Rise in civic organisations, fixing state procrastination

·       Civil society takes on more and more, fixing state lack of delivery

·       State begins to reform itself through a GNU

·       Informal sector goes from strength to strength, real unemployment and poverty reduces

This momentum is unstoppable, and as ‘trust’ improves this mandate will grow, of that I am sure, as John Endres concludes “We are solving problems in the growing absence of the state and doing it successfully. In years to come, South Africa may well become a case study of how private initiative succeeds where states fail. And in the future, South Africa could end up with an enabling, compact state, a lean state, which co-operates with non-state actors instead of trying to stifle their efforts.”

Leg 2: Private sector initiative

The work that B4SA has managed to achieve over the past 10 months is astounding on all three fronts: Energy supply; Transport and Logistics and Crime and Corruption (as the table below indicates)

Leg 3: Civil Society Oversight and Contribution:

It is estimated that there are 150,000 registered NGOs in South Africa. I’m told, 10,000 in education alone. Many of these NGOs secure support from the corporate sector. They are to be found in every sector of endeavor in the country. On we have a portal ‘Good Deeds NGO’s’ and ‘Good Deeds Corporate’ we publish +/- 10 examples of these every month, and have been doing so for 16 years, that’s close on 2000 stories!

Leg 4: Informal sector growth:

I recently came across the work of GG Alcock ‘Kasinomic Revolution’ in which he describes the informal economy as ‘invisible but all around us, like a mist drifting by our car windows, hanging around on street corners, covering the townships.  It is growing in an urgent organic pace unmatched by the formal sector’.

Unemployment in SA = 12%

GG quotes the following, and argues that ‘unemployment in SA is no more than 12%, the reason why we hear ‘official’ figures of 38% is because no-one really knows what is happening in our townships:


Food Takeaways

50 000 kasi kos takeaways selling everything from the township burger called a kota to vetkoeks, shisanyama’s and amaplate food trucks.  200 000 + people are employed in this sector.

Turns over in excess of R90 billion a year

Muti Market

Employing almost 150 000 people and serving 27 million customers,

Turns over in excess of R18 billion a year

Spaza Shops

There are more than 70 000 hole in the wall spaza shops, 30 000 spazarettes (informal supermarkets) and cash&carries.

Turns over more than R 150 billion rand a year,


500 000 hawkers or table top vendors earning on average between R 1500 to R 3000 each a month in profit, (up to 60% of municipal fruit and vegetable market trade is from this sector and the kasi kos sector)

Turns over around R120 billion a year

Hair Salons

150 000 hair salons ranging from home backrooms to colourful corrugated iron dunusa (barebum) style sell hair pieces and stylings worth millions every weekend.

Turns over R10 billion in stylings and cuts alone.


250 000 minibus taxis, driving 15 m DAILY commuter trips

Turns over R50 billion a year

Backroom rentals

Backroom rentals are earned in two ways, domestic and through rental of spaza shops by township home owners,

Turns over around R45 billion per year

Auto Businesses

80 000 Auto businesses – kasi mechanics, services, panel beating, car wash, tyres, sound systems

School Feeding

60 000 school mamas at township schools selling snacks and meals.


Over 820 000 stokfels with 11.4 million members control R5 billion in savings

And there are a multitude of other businesses in these sectors including:

·        Kasi building, renovations, gates, burglar gaurds, chrome gutters etc

·        Services – plumbing, electricians, catering & event suppliers tent, toilet and chair hire,

·        Alcohol – taverns & shebeens

·        Cultural – muti, livestock, sangoma, inyanga, unveilings, funeral,

·        Financial – mashonisa, stokvel, masicwabisane

Based on the above alone it would seem that the informal sector could be approaching R1 trillion per annum.

AND FINALLY – on Youth Unemployment

Young South Africans innovate and hustle to beat unemployment OR are the ‘official’ youth unemployment stats of 59.7% TRUE?

To solve South Africa’s dismaying youth unemployment challenge we must end the pervasive narrative that South Africans, and particularly young unemployed South Africans, are reliant on the government.

It’s quite simply not true, as a recent African Response survey has revealed. Among the respondents who classified themselves as unemployed and looking for work, 41% are earning up to R15 000 a month through income-generating activities such as baking, building and hairdressing. What this shows is that many of our young people are resilient and inventive about making ends meet. We need to reinforce that and build their confidence so that that attitude catches on.  Source: Mamapudi Nkgadima CEO, African Response

CONCLUSION: Recent research indicates that 30% off media consumers have stopped watching the news because they find it too depressing, repetitive, gloomy and not of much interest (Rather like 30% of registered voters not pitching to vote!). As we move into these changing times the media must step up to the plate.