Daily Maverick

Local businesses need you

Desperatio­n has forced small SA businesses to be innovative and disruptive. All they need now is for consumers to give them a chance.

- By Georgina Crouth

No one imagined the lockdown would last more than a few weeks. After that, restrictio­ns would be lifted, schools would resume, parents would return to work, public spaces would reopen and life would return to normal.

But more than nine months later, the abnormal has been repackaged as “the new normal”. And while the Covid-19 lockdowns ravage the economy and destroy livelihood­s, desperatio­n has become the mother of creativity, inspiring the newly out of work to embark on entreprene­urial journeys for the future. DM168 spoke to a few women entreprene­urs about their hustle, how the pandemic has hurt – and helped them, – and the importance of supporting local industry.

Sekani Mlauzi, Flavaful

Maternity leave, a newborn baby and unemployme­nt can be powerful incitement­s for action. For Sekani (or “Sekkie”) Mlauzi, it encouraged her to start Flavaful, a small Kempton Park events company, in 2013.

Months after Sekkie returned to her job in finance for a medical company, her weekend hustle – juggling her growing eventing business – started to put a strain on her. And her day job became a drag. “I’d be thinking about food ... and my clients, so I thought I should rather leave amicably and not burn any bridges. I’ve never looked back,” she says.

At the beginning of 2020, Flavaful was flying, employing 10 permanent staff members and 15 casual workers. Covid-19 has been “hectic”, she explains, not only because of the shutdowns, but because the lag effect on the industry will bite for a while.

With 80% of Flavaful’s income wiped out, Sekkie could tap into her savings but supporting her staff for long was impossible. “We had to let people go. Then I got lucky: I got an essential services client who wanted to feed their staff because they didn’t want them to go out for lunch.”

Covid, she says, pushed them to their limit: “We didn’t realise our potential. There were incredible things that my industry colleagues were coming up with.”

Innovation­s included assembling care packs for companies and delivering them to sick staff and even selling eucalyptus oil.

“Most of us in eventing are only doing 10% of our business pre-Covid. It’s picking up, but the number of clients has dropped off dramatical­ly.”

Sekkie says she feels blessed that her company is still around, because so many have closed down – and people have remembered who they are. Every bit helps. www.facebook.com/www.eventsbyse­kkie. co.za

Manuela Wall, Growbag

Manuela has made a business from recycling the plastic “skins” used by her out-of-home advertiser husband, Simon.

“I thought what is happening to all the billboards, where do they go?”

Growbag evolved in 2013 from Manuela’s involvemen­t with Soil For Life, a nonprofit educating and training people in Cape Town’s underprivi­leged communitie­s to grow vegetables and herbs, after it asked Wall for “skins” to cover compost heaps.

“I went into poor communitie­s, to see Soil For Life’s work, and ... to donate planters for their gardening competitio­ns.”

Part of her profits from the planters, which were sold pre-Covid at the Granger Bay and Watershed markets, go to Soil for Life to uplift poor communitie­s and help them grow their own vegetables.

Tourist sales, which funded most of the project, halted in March. “We had a nice sales and production team. I couldn’t keep going with the whole team, as the markets closed. My savings went straight into paying the few people I could keep on.”

Instead, Manuela upskilled her staff to do their own production. “They have to feed their own large families, so we made pouches for masks and masks.”

In the past two months, orders have picked up, through Yuppiechef and Den Anker at the Waterfront.

With more orders, Growbag has been able to donate planters again. They’re hopeful that some tourism will see an uptick in business, as foreigners love the product. “It’s easy and light to [chuck] into the luggage.”

Locals, she says, love the idea of the Growbag but don’t quite understand it yet.

“It’s a reward to see a new leaf – it’s like the plant is loving you.” www.growbag.co.za

Pam McOnie, CapeTownEa­ts.com:

Pam McOnie is credited with starting the first foodie walking tours in the Mother City, Cape Fusion Tours. When SA locked down, she watched the heartbreak in the industry and how people were making contingenc­y plans as everything was starting to close.

“Chefs were starting to make things, delivering goods, and posting it to Instagram but I thought [they were] missing something.”

Pam launched CapeTownEa­ts.com, with a group on Facebook. It connects artisanal producers, chefs and farmers with customers. Listing is free and because the website is geolocated, it helps support the “little guy”.

“Basil from Square Tomato does [an] incredible baklava that you can freeze. So when the Afrikaburn set responded, I realised he used to supply baklava at those events.”

Pam’s food tours have been her “bread and butter” since 2002, which helped her discover intriguing artisans all over the Peninsula. She is now hosting mini tours, taking locals to places they have never heard of. CapeTownEa­ts.com, www.facebook.com/ groups/CapeTownEa­ts

Carmen Sampayo-Deavall,

Create My Box

Carmen, who was a housing agent and technology provider for large events, watched helplessly as the pandemic was announced and clients cancelled. This year was supposed to be their tenth anniversar­y, with a big splash planned for April. With clients unable to travel thanks to the pandemic, Create My Box was set up. “We needed to follow the trend and create meeting boxes for them, which we’d send via courier.”

Online gifting evolved from there.

“We use local artisans, jewellers, scarf makers. [The products are] made by people who lost their jobs,” she says. “We create a story in a box and put it out there for sale... I have been able to retain my staff, which has been amazing, and it’s a beautiful business.”

Carmen says she has happy, grateful staff. Her husband, who joined her travel business in 2018, has become their box builder.

“Everything is doom and gloom and it’s so lovely to gift something beautiful... Small business owners need a bit of help.”

Carmen says she is loving this process. “It feeds my soul... I don’t take anything for granted any more. Createmybo­x.co.za, @createmybo­x

Pearl Oliver-Mbumba,

Let’s Talk Somm

Pearl has worked at some of the finest hotels and resorts as a wine sommelier and food and beverage manager. She’s judged for Platter’s Wine Guide, Diner’s Club, MasterChef SA and more. She’s also chaired the Black Cellar Club (BLACC). But when Covid-19 hit, no position or accomplish­ment in the hospitalit­y sector was safe.

“I was Luvo Ntezo’s assistant, but I was retrenched. My last day at One & Only was 31 July. It was a really tough one and so unexpected,” Pearl explains.

The company was fantastic, she says, giving staff online training to keep them busy.

“A month ago, I heard they had to retrench another 80-odd people and I realised the shit has hit the fan.”

With two young children and a husband who owned Uber vehicles, Pearl launched a wine consultanc­y, Let’s Talk Somm, but it is battling to gain traction.

Pearl says she has tried to market her services, but “doors shut all the time. People are wary of bringing in a third party because of Covid compliance.”

Pearl is learning to brand herself in a different way. She has been blogging and has opened a YouTube channel. BLACC is being revived too. In support of the club’s co-founder, Aubrey Ngcungama, she decided to go back to become brand ambassador.

“Sixty percent of us have been retrenched. Where there are positions available, we post that, to help each other.” www.letstalkso­mm.com, @letstalkso­mm

 ??  ?? Above: BLACC deputy secretary general, Pearl Oliver-Mbumba. Photo: BLACC
Right and middle: Sekani Mlauzi and her Flavaful food.
Photos: Facebook; Instagram
Above: BLACC deputy secretary general, Pearl Oliver-Mbumba. Photo: BLACC Right and middle: Sekani Mlauzi and her Flavaful food. Photos: Facebook; Instagram
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 ?? Photos: Facebook; Instagram ?? Top: Supporting small business is a cornerston­e of Create My Box’s ethos. Middle: Growbag’s stand at the Oranjezich­t City Farm Market. Above right: Pam McOnie of Cape Town Eats.
Photos: Facebook; Instagram Top: Supporting small business is a cornerston­e of Create My Box’s ethos. Middle: Growbag’s stand at the Oranjezich­t City Farm Market. Above right: Pam McOnie of Cape Town Eats.
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