|Central Phokeng, around 5kms from where I live|
A client can fire you. A long term contract that provides the backbone of your business can expire.But hopefully, if such a thing happens, you made sure you have other clients who can take up the slack and you know where to go look for more work to replace the client you lost.
Another reason I like the online business in particular is that, you don't just depend on your local economy. It's good business to look for clients locally, but the Internet also allows you to look for clients elsewhere, so if there are problems with the local enonomy, you still have a good chance of riding through it.
I've recently started thinking about this because of the huge job losses that are happening in Phokeng/Rustenburg. This month alone, my older sister who is 50 years old, was retrenched from her job. The owner is shutting down the business. The employment contract for one of my nephews is not going to be renewed at the end of March. My older brother's employer is retrenching, though his job is safe. Talk to every family, and you'll hear the same/similar story: businesses failing or people losing jobs.
So what's going on in Phokeng?
A bit about Phokeng, mining and the economy of the area
Phokeng is a town in the North West province of South Africa (thought it was a village, but a lot of literature describes it as a town, so I'll go with the flow:-)
It is the capital of the Royal Bafokeng Nation and lies near Rustenburg, around 150 kilometres west of Johannesburg. The area is the major location of platinum mines in South Africa, and South Africa produces around 75% of the world's platinum. As you can imagine, the local economy is heavily reliant on the mining economy.
I'm not sure how long the miners have been on strike for this session? And there was another stretch last year and maybe early this year? Sorry, after a while they all blend over each other and this one is apparently indefinite, so there is no end in sight. The impact has been devastating.
I don't know how the mining strikes are affecting the mining industry directly (I read somewhere that they are costing South Africa R400 million per day), but the impact has gone beyond those involved in the industry to affect local businesses (secondary impact).
The mines were shut down to ensure we don't have the same violence as happened in Marikana last year(Marikana is also nearby).
Many mining employees and their families have gone back to their towns of residence to minimise cost of living, spend time with family while the negotiations drag on. Their numbers far exceed the number of locals (maybe twice, triple the number?).
The result is that Rustenburg, the nearby city where we do most of our shopping, is practically empty. I drove through downtown going to the mall the day before yesterday, and it was scary to look down one end of the street to another and see only two people, when i used to avoid the place altogether even though it's the shorter route to the big mall, because the same street used to be crowded with hundreds of people at any given time.
That means that there are fewer people to buy whatever local stores are selling, and many privately owned businesses have no hope of making their daily/weekly quotas to cover their expenses. So they are retrenching, at least until the madness ends.
Then there are those business owners who are fed up with the unending strikes and will not reopen. My sister's employer is one of them. And there are those business owners who have depleted their funds and could not reopen their businesses, even if they wanted to.
South Africa already has high unemployment rates, and Phokeng was no different, with many people running small and micro businesses to make a living. The locals are collateral damage at this stage: not necessarily involved in the dispute, but affected by it nonetheless.
This is one of those times where we all lose, and I'm grateful that my income does not depend on the local enocomy and I have food security through my gardens.
Anyhoo, it got me thinking that we, the people of Phokeng, need to start thinking very seriously about developing other business areas and not be so heavily reliant on mining. We do talk quite a bit about what will happen when the platinum is depleted. It will happen.. mines eventually do run out, no matter how abundant the supply seems. But so far, I don't see or hear of the aggressive development of manufacturing and other types of industries.
The Royal Bafokeng Holdings does invest to diversify the assets from mining royalties, but we can't just depend on them either, and we need the kind of investment that creates thousands of local jobs.
I find it very worrying....