South Africa is on Tuesday commemorating the youth of 1976 which fought for equal education. The day is used to remember the uprising that resulted in the deaths of 176 people. It is also used to reflect on how far the country has come in addressing issues affecting the youth.
Forty-four years later, young people are still facing many challenges including, among others, unemployment, access to economic opportunities, and existing in a country with high levels of domestic violence. While the government and other stakeholders are doing their part in addressing the challenges, the youth is also playing its role.
The founder of Sky Tents, Isaac Mbatha, is one of the young people who are contributing to the small business sector. After spending some time washing and repairing tents in KwaMashu, KwaZulu- Natal, the 30-year-old decided to start his manufacturing company.
“I guess it started in the streets of KwaMashu where every weekend you would find people putting up tents for weddings, parties, umembeso and funerals. So, I started going around washing tents and from washing I started repairing. Once I had the urge to find out how do they manufacture and what is acquired to manufacture, in 2015,I went ahead and took a leap of faith into going into manufacturing and Sky Tents was born.”
Growing the business
The company is contributing to job creation in a country with a 29.1% unemployment rate. What started as a business employing three people has now grown to an entity with 59 employees.
Sky Tents currently has nine branches across South Africa. Mbatha says growing the business has not been without its challenges.
“I think in South Africa, especially as a young black entrepreneur, you always get compared to people that were put before you. What are you going to do differently (you are asked)? So, you constantly have to up your game.”
Impact of COVID-19
Small businesses have recently been operating under difficult economic conditions with low economic growth. In March, South Africa entered its second recession in two years with the Gross Domestic Product decreasing by 1.4% in the fourth quarter of 2019. The Reserve Bank predicts a contraction of between 2 to 4% this year.
Currently, businesses are operating under strict measures implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Mbatha says they are operating at 50% capacity.
“The pandemic has affected not just my business and South Africa but the world as a whole. Yes, we had to follow the laws by shutting down (under Alert Level-5). Now that we have opened under Level-3, with 50% of our staff actually being on the floor, so we are basically rotating them. It has affected big time.”
Below is the full interview with Isaac Mbatha:
Government through the Department of Small Business Development has approved R513 million for Small, Medium, and Micro-Enterprise Debt Relief Funding Scheme. Close to 36 000 businesses have applied for debt relief. While the government is making strides, Mbatha says more can be done.
“If the government looked at it at a different angle, when they shut down (Level-5) they needed tents and what they did is to import tents from China instead of looking for us as manufacturers. I think it would have sustained us and other businesses. We would have been in a better position if we got support from them as well. “
Message to youth
Mbatha urges young people who wish to become entrepreneurs to never give up on the dream.
“They need to keep going, keep pushing, and never give up. Fall then get up. It is all about being consistent, especially with this pandemic that we are going through. I know it is so easy to give up, but we don’t want anybody to look back six months, six years later, and have regrets about what they could have or should have been.”
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