Face Masks
Interviewed By:  Jarette Petzer on ImStayingMedia

South Africa’s township economy has always been alive with possibilities and entrepreneurial energy. Many of these entrepreneurs are young people, which means there is much potential. Potential which needs to be nurtured, mentored, and harnessed.

Bulelani Balabala is the founder of T.E.A, Township Entrepreneur Alliance and recently sat down with Jarette Petzer to talk about how he has tried to find ‘balance’ as an entrepreneur and the need to adapt and find solutions for sustainability. Some projects have stopped, and he has not been able to have 1-on-1 interactions with people. These interactions are a big part of his business, so their demise has had a strong impact. 

Join us for tea

Bulelani relates the story of how he came to found T.E.A five years ago, popularly known as ‘Join us for tea’. The initiative is in about 60 townships across the country, and workshop with 7 000 to 10 000 township entrepreneurs, for free. 

“A national footprint of township entrepreneurs”

His aim is to expand his creation of a national footprint of township entrepreneurs. How? By ‘visiting rural and township communities and sharing information, networking entrepreneurs and creating market access solutions’

There is a thriving business economy in the townships. ‘There is a lot of movement, there is a lot of participation,’ says Bulelani. 

What particular troubles face an entrepreneur in a township?

The troubles that face entrepreneurs within a township are not the same as those faced by entrepreneurs outside of the townships. Township businesses are often deemed to lack credibility, and accessibility is more difficult too. Young professionals in townships need to catch a few taxis to get to economic hubs and meet with like-minded people. 

Bulelani goes into this in more depth

On the subject of the informal sector, Bulelani explains the discrimination and non-inclusion they often face. On ‘paper’ they might not come across as a thriving entrepreneur to more ‘intellectual’ people. However, in reality, a township entrepreneur’s net profit margins might be high and he is doing very well. Even while working out of a shack or metal container. 

The heart is there, but not the understanding

Much of corporate South Africa want involvement in this thriving sector and are keen to help develop township entrepreneurs. But ‘there is no concerted effort and understanding’ of what the actual issues are. Nor how to find solutions for that particular market.

He mostly loves doing ‘genuine impact work’. This is not tick-box work; it is inherently adding value for the entrepreneur him/herself. 

‘I think there is something very unique about our townships in South Africa’, says Jarette. ‘They have a global story to tell that the world will want to hear.’ Bulelani agrees and talks about having the ‘inate ability to own your own story’, wherever you come from. Klerksdorp, Khayelitsha or Camps Bay. 

Covid-19’s role with entrepreneurs in the townships

Township Entrepreneur Alliance are currently compiling data in an ‘Impact and Solution’ document. This relates to the impact that Covid-19 has had on township entrepreneurs, and what solutions can be brought in to help. These include much-needed counselling. Ground relief is sought and discussed.

“Holistic participation is needed.”

Bulelani seeks corporate and digital help and solutions, moving forward. 

He seeks people who want to work with him ‘360’

Holistic participation is needed. 


Edited By: Jennifer McQuillan