Sandwiched between Devine Hair Saloon and Glory be to God Investments trading as Talitas Lady’s Fashion on a busy downtown street is my aunt’s underwear store. The signs were painted by Peter who is renowned for this workmanship with a brush. His services are sought after to reproduce well known images of Rihanna to brand hair salons or emblazon eateries with gigantic images of fried chicken drumsticks and heaped plates of pap and cholesterol. These are common themes in and around Gauteng and SA’s inner cities, snippets of booming enterprise. In a recent encounter with these two establishments I found out what many Economic Planning ministries are missing.
‘Devine Hair Saloon’, true to its country Western connotations, churns out drunks by the hundreds. Women light-headed and giddy with the satisfaction of having Rukshana’s silky locks on their own shoulders, and further intoxicated by the chemical cloud of CFCs composed of holding spray, oil sheen and Lord knows what else that lurks in the air from the opening of doors at 7 00 am (for people who want to do touch ups before work) and closing at 8 00 pm (for those whose locks need after-hours attention). Talitas fashions’ resembles a dozen other similar stores on the street. They also conduct business in pretty much the same fashion, items are displayed on mannequins throughout and outside the store in what to the naked eye seems like a haphazard fashion and items selected by buyers from bundles/boxes packaged in the East or ports of Durban. Talitas drunkens with another scent, that of ‘fresh to death-ness,’ that new shoe smell that’s can easily compete with your Mama’s deluxe edition Sunday Lunch. Freshness also applies to other modes of conspicuous consumption The same patterns of consumption occur on a ‘grander’ scale across the Gau-train tracks. Though there are differences in price range, availability of space, recognition by banks, municipal services etc. these are no different to the over-priced stencils of Top Billing featured establishments in sterile suburbia. Pity the Finance ministry and us as consumers don’t see it as such.
The entrepreneurs behind these names engineer the circulation of currency, job creation and the sustenance of other small businesses. They stretch that frivolously spent R 5 a mile and a half from dimly lit stores and hastily swept pavements. It is in the bustling streets of Sunnyside and Yeoville that I saw entrepreneurship at its best. Those streets resemble true cosmopolitanism, not the elitist sham that is Cape Town.* Most of these entrepreneurs are darker shades of brown and their papers indicate that they from North of the Limpopo. This is mentioned more often than the fact that they constitute a largely understated, thriving small to medium enterprise sector.Concerns about 'their illegality' 'bringing crime to SA' and other xenophobic rants provide cringe-worthy moments aplenty and without our realizing are stored in our children s' subconscious's. This 'xenophobia' is projected far less on 'foreigners' of lighter skin tones despite their immense benefits from enterprise in Africa. Is the Africa in this country's name merely window dressing? Till that is addressed, we're so lost, we might literally consume to our death.
The Shona said it so well, Chisi chako masimba mashoma. Meaning, you do not have power over something which is not yours.The price we are paying for this fresh-ness, in its many packaged forms, is far dearer than we think. Because we know we live in a consumer-driven society (a long haul battle) we need not look Eastward for manufacture and Westward for entrepreneurial skills. The seeds are sown in our discussions, thoughts penned/typed and ultimately actions.
Yuh Shin Hua
*following blog discusses Design Capital 2014 Campaign