Who’s supporting business in these hot, dusty Karoo towns?

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Northerrn Cape
Northern Cape (Photo: Chesney Bradshaw)

After driving for hours through the hot, dry and dusty Karoo, you get back home to the city and miss those wide open spaces.

The veld with small bushes and shrubs that extend to the mountains on the horizon. Clear visibility enabling you to see so far that you wonder about the distance that you can see with the naked eye – is it 23 km or 30 km? The vistas are big and leave you with a good feeling that there is still so much land out there that’s unspoilt, unpolluted and even untrodden.

You pass all those small towns like Laingsburg, Leeu-Gamka, Richmond, Beaufort West and Hanover. From the N1 highway there is not much to see in these towns except the large petrol stations, tiny restaurants, bottle stores and the occasional cafe.

What business happens in these towns? How are they coping and responding to the economic hard times? What support is small business getting from larger national concerns, government and local chambers of commerce?

If you glance through the thin community newspapers in the petrol stations, you see adverts from small country superette stores, conditioning and cooling supplies, taxidermists, butchery equipment suppliers and firms that help you get out of trouble when you’re in debt. The recipe of the week in the issue of the newspaper I am looking at is for sheep’s tail.

The big national businesses certainly aren’t the ones helping small home-industry and retail businesses in these towns. The giant petrol service stations sucked out the marrow left for small businesses long ago.

As you walk into one of the petrol station stores, you see a poster with bread, eggs and milk. I’d like to kick these posters down. These same people took all this business and more from the townsfolk in many of these small towns. And they sell no local produce or crafts, not even sandwiches and biltong.

In the editorial of a local newspaper the editor expresses concern about people from other countries setting up their clothing and housewares stores and vacuuming the money out of these little towns.

I don’t know the solution but I’d insist that these operators employ locals and that locals must have a share in the business (I don’t blame you if you fall over backwards with laughter because it will be a sunny day in hell before anyone does anything).

Yet who do you blame when locals left open the low-income or bottom end of the market wide open? How long could it remain uncontested? Years ago some of the larger businesses catered for this low-end but moved up with fancy goods and higher prices.

If you’ve enjoyed this, look out for my next post in which I look at opportunities and possibilities.

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