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By Enkosi Selane

Digital Journalist

WATCH: How rising costs are shrinking profits for Joburg  street vendors and traditional healers

Vendors urge the government to provide support, subsidies, and grants to help their businesses survive.

The cost of living is a daily concern for many South Africans. From housing to food to transportation, expenses can add up quickly.

This increase in the cost of living has had a devastating impact on informal small business owners in the city of Johannesburg, with many struggling to stay afloat amidst rising expenses.

On Wednesday, The Citizen took to the streets to ask small business owners about their experiences, concerns and hopes for the future. Here’s what they had to say…

The struggle to stay afloat

Vegetable vendors, snack vendors, and traditional healers all struggle to stay afloat amid the volatile economic fluctuations and rising cost of living.

For vegetable vendors like Sboniso Sbango, the increase in the cost of living has meant a significant rise in the cost of raw materials. “When I go for stocking at the market to buy, I find the price of vegetables to be significantly high, resulting in me not getting the expected profit when I sell this side,” she says.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to make a profit. We used to sell (veggies) for R6, but we ended up increasing prices and selling for R10,” she says.

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Covid-19 impact lingers on

Snack and cigarette vendor, Peter Paul Ndazamo says he started seeing a decline in his sales when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020.

“As businesses before Corona (Covid-19), we tried our best. Before the Coronavirus hit, everything was okay. We were getting much more support from customers. But from there [after Covid-19 pandamic) some have since been complaining about prices because they are jobless and that is costing us,” said Ndazamo.

Transport costs hit vendors

Mustaf Goodson, another fruit and vegetable vendor helping his brother run the business said all was well for their stand.

However, Goodson said they only had an issue with the transportation which has increased.

Moreover, Mbali Masango, a fellow fresh produce vendor agreed with this sentiment.

“The cost of transportation has increased significantly, which means I have to pay more to get my products to market. It’s eating into my profits,” she said.

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The human impact

Ndazamo who mostly sells cool drinks, snacks and cigarettes said while his business is not stagnant at the moment, he cannot shy away from the fact that economic conditions make it less than what it could be.

With business going slow for most informal businesses, Masango said she felt the heavy effect of the seemingly hard-to-attain good standard of living in her pockets.

This is due to her having to pay a mountain of expenses like rent, creche, school transport, groceries and business transport amongst others all from the small income she was making.

“Since Covid started everything just went quiet, there is no income. We live in poverty,” she said.

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Traditional healer businesses and “phoney” chemists

Traditional healer Doctor Mkhosi “Thambo Lenyoka” Mhlongo attributed the “falling” of the traditional healer business to the influx of “faux” foreign healers and their “phoney” chemists.

“We no longer have customers, we just sit here [Faraday taxi rank- Healer’s market] and wait for the one day that someone comes knocking seeking help, but we do not gain much from that either,” he said.

Mhlongo added that these false chemists have caused their business to die because they offer low prices.

“There are so many expenses now, One can’t even renovate their place of work so that it at least looks respectable. You can’t even take anything home because as you can see there are no customers, but if you go to these chemists you will find them full of people being deceived.”

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Adapting to the new normal

Vendors increase prices, reduce quantities, and change suppliers to cope with rising costs.

The snack vendor said he and his fellow sellers were trying their utmost best to stay afloat despite the ever-increasing prices.

After being a vendor for approximately 15 years, Ndazamo expressed hope for a growing economy which he thinks would decrease the cost of living. He said he anticipates that this will come in the next three to four years.

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Customers opt for vendors over retailers

With the increased cost of living, Goodson and Masango said they had noticed that consumers were now buying fresh produce more from them than they did at big retailers. While this is a good thing for them, Masango said it also had its negative side with them [the vendors] often having to decrease their prices in order to meet their customers’ needs.

“Market prices are high we have to decrease our selling price when we get here because people do not buy. For us to be able to buy the things we want we have to meet them where they are,” she explained.

Adding to this Mhlongo said they [informal businesses and fellow traditional healers] have no choice but to meet their consumers halfway.

“Our customers are unemployed and there are no jobs available so we have to help them when they come to you with their problems.”

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The ripple effect

Customers’ purchasing power dwindles, affecting demand and sales.

Sbango attributed the decrease in her customers’ buying power to Covid-19. She said before the pandemic hit she would get a swarm of customers daily, however, this is no longer a fact.

“Since Covid hit, prices have increased, things are mixed up, we no longer have customers. We really do not have customers, only a small number buys,” Sbango added.

Masango concurred saying people make it seem like it’s their fault that prices are high.

“They say we want to buy cars with their money, and it’s not that – food is just expensive.”

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Urge for government intervention

Vendors urge the government to provide support, subsidies, and grants to help them survive.

“The government could provide subsidies so that prices can decrease where we get stock. At least then things could be better because when the stock prices increase we also have to increase the selling price.”

The traditional healer said they would be very happy to have government intervene because that is what the people vote for.

“We put them in their positions so they can help us. They must come to us and hear our cries. However much they help us with we will accept.”

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