Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The potential of a street vendor

The red hot sun of that Wednesday afternoon was quickly engulfed by the gathering dark clouds that were signalling the coming of what looked like a raging storm. Mmapuna Matlhare, a street vendor who was selling her wares at the bus rank at the time, didn’t take the change in the weather as nonchalantly as the combi drivers around her. While the drivers engaged in lively conversations to pass time as they waited for their combis to fill up, Mmapuna stood up to gather her wares, which were orderly displayed on her vending table.

We had only been speaking for a few minutes when she stood up to respond to the lurking rain, which given the recent weather forecasts from the meteorological services was less likely to happen. It took some convincing to get her to settle so as to continue the conversation.

“Street vendor business is tough. We barely manage to survive, but it’s always a struggle. The experience however has taught me a lot and I am encouraged to try my hand on a business venture better than this one,” responded Mmapuna when asked whether or not she would succeed on any business venture of her choice if government was to deliberately commit funding to it.

She highlighted that vending is fraught with cash flow pitfalls which she has taken the time to learn and continues to manoeuvre around. Mmapuna explained that vending involves frequent exchange of cash. However, she warmed that the collected money does not in actual fact reflect profit, and if not carefully planned for could result in the business going under. She lamented that it is difficult to maintain a positive cash flow given the fluctuating sales volume that each day brings, which in turn affects how much profit she makes. The small profit the business makes, she bemoaned, makes it very difficult to grow beyond just selling airtime, sweets, fruits and drinks. Just as she was about to explain how she trudges the heaviness of the unpredictable days, the rain began to pelt, just as she had anticipated it would. It was in that moment that Mmapuna’s inherent spirit to defy the odds burnt fiercely in her eyes. She meticulously gathered her wares without disturbing the order in which they had been arranged. She lowered the gazebo she sells from to a height that could repel the heavy rain drops so as to guard her stock. She then squeezed her petite frame into the gazebo and created space for an extra person. Mmapuna demonstrated a trait of entrepreneurship that is seldom practiced. She put the needs of the business before her own.

She doesn’t know what business opportunity she would choose to venture into if given a funding boost but she is certain that she wants something more than just selling from a table. She isn’t deluded about the material and aesthetic image that often clouds ownership of a business venture. Her idea of business is hard work, perseverance and shrewd spending because that is what selling from a table has taught her.

The informal sector, which Mmapuna’s business is recognized under, remains a scantly documented aspect of the economy. It is reported to be a growing sector that constitutes a majority of small, micro and medium enterprises (SMMEs). This growth however is not recorded nor is it measured to deduce the trends of the informal sector whose information can be used to improve it. The taxi rank is a glimpse of what the informal sector looks like and Mmapuna’s table is one out of many in the rank.

Mmapuna is a small business owner whose experience, if properly applied, offers a better opportunity to build entrepreneurship from. The skills, abilities and knowledge that she learns and practices in her business make her a better candidate to make entrepreneurship work. Mmapuna is an unrealized potential, her only fault it seems is operating in a sector whose importance is not recognized.

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