Township based businesses suffered the most during the pandemic. Technology enabled established and city centre based businesses to still trade. The pandemic changed the adoption of e-commerce in South Africa. As a result a number of business have more appreciation for e-commerce as another avenue of doing business. Last week UberEats announced a partnership with the Gauteng government to enable township based businesses to trade via the platform. The company announced that it will invest R200 million to expand its food delivery service to townships in Gauteng, with the aim of creating 2,000 jobs for delivery people and adding 700 more restaurants to its platform.
In practical terms, this means when you browse for food providers some of them will be based in a township. Consumers will probably be able to buy tshisanyama (barbecue meat) online. This initiative will be a massive boost for the township economy. It will enable township based businesses to trade beyond the township environment and access cities as well urban environments. The company indicated that by March 2024, Uber Eats is aiming to on-board 200 merchants and 150 delivery people. This move will also give township based entrepreneurs the value of online environment as an ideal space to conduct business. Uber together with the Gauteng government ought to be commended for enabling businesses to have access to this market. While this programme should be welcomed, it should also serve as an inspiration to local online platforms. Ideally it is them who should be enabling the township economy to trade online. At this point in time economic policy makers should remember that South Africa does not reap all the economic benefits whenever Uber/ UberEats is the provider of a solution. It would have been different if the platform was locally built. In that way a local technology platform infrastructure would grow together with local businesses that use its services. This is the thinking that needs to be understood by local government entities. It is possible for local technology platforms to address local issues and serve local markets.
The online environment should be seen by township based businesses as a market place for other goods and services aswell. Trading online should also be seen as another means through local businesses can protect themselves against rampant criminal syndicates such extortionists. When a business is trading online it does not need to have physical and visible business premises. The business owner needs an operating environment and online presence. Local governments can enable township businesses through training to have more appreciation for online markets. They can also conduct programmes that assists with the development of online marketplaces. These can be built for the business itself or to partner with an existing local market place such UberEats and other local marketplaces and e-commerce platforms such as Loot. Support from local government entities should be equivalent to what would have been provided for physical trading spaces. Online environments should exist and township based businesses should be encouraged and supported to have online presence. Part of this process should not only drive traders to platforms but they should be equipped with skills to create their own online environments. This approach would enable business owners to build digital assets and create another stream of income for themselves. The ultimate goal of this process should be to create a digital economy that enable the township economy to go beyond current constraints and markets. There’s a whole range township based businesses that are waiting to enter the digital space. All they need is the necessary support that will enable them access to thrive. As internet connectivity is enabled in townships there’s a need to create services that will add value for communities to have full benefits of opportunities that are presented by technology. As Uber Eats invests millions in townships it will be interesting to observe the impact of this intervention in the township economy. It’s an economic intervention that should inspire more to reflect about their perceptions about the township economy. In doing so, businesses will do well to be less exploitative but ensure that their intervention has real economic impact. In the future it would be great to share business success stories that were made possible by moving them from being township based business to the digital space.