‘I fear for my employees’
Tavern owner Thobile Grootboom is worried sick about what will happen to his employees should he be forced to let them go when South Africa’s “junk” status begins to bite in a few months.
Grootboom lives with his wife, Vuyelwa – a professional nurse in one of the local hospitals in Port Elizabeth – and they have a child studying at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
He is also worried about not being able to afford the responsibilities of extended family, often referred to as a black tax.
“We both have extended family. Both families will go through a difficult time,” he said.
He is particularly concerned that customer numbers will dwindle and that those coming in will spend less on beverages and food. Like most businesses, taverns are affected when the economy is not thriving.
“I know that there have been talks of a possible downgrade, but I was hoping it wouldn’t become a reality,” he said.
“I currently employ five people who come in on weekends when it is mostly busy. What’s going to happen to them?” he asked.
He said it would be unfortunate if he were forced to make the difficult choice of reducing his staff.
He has run his business in KwaZakhele township for years and he has seen tough times before.
Consequently, the thought of not being able to afford keeping all of them employed troubles him.
“My employees all have families; the little they earn from me makes a big difference in their homes and families. Chances are that the ones I let go won’t be able to secure jobs in the future, or maybe never at all,” he said.
“It came as a shock when [the downgrade] was announced earlier in the week; I never expected that it would come so soon,” said Grootboom.
Vuyelwa said she had no doubt that food prices would be escalating and there was little people could do because “everybody needs food in their homes”.
She said they would now have to restructure their grocery list to accommodate the fact that South Africa’s currency would lose more value, which would increase the cost of imports.
“On average, we spend around R4 000 on food in our home, but with the downgrade, we will now have to reduce the items we buy. This will force us to tighten the belt around our household expenditure,” she said, citing products such as coffee, yogurt, ice cream and meat.
She said the family would also have to make do without luxuries such as family holidays and spending on Christmas presents.
Grootboom said his business would have to change its operations, because he suspected their investments and savings would now offer fewer benefits.
“We now have to watch every cent we spend and stokvels should be reviewed so that we don’t get caught up in a cash-flow glitch,” said Grootboom.
Grootboom admitted that his family did not have a “hidden purse”, meaning huge investments set aside for “unfortunate instances”.
He and his wife are bracing themselves for tough times.