STEVEN ZWANE: Entrepreneurship is integral to our heritage
Heritage Day, a holiday that is deeply embedded in the cultural tapestry of SA, is a time to cast a spotlight on a heritage that is often overlooked — our entrepreneurial spirit. SA is a nation that values its cultural heritage and community businesses, and it is high time we recognise entrepreneurship as a vital part of that heritage.
Our heritage is a rich mosaic of languages, traditions and communities, and within this diversity lies a thriving entrepreneurial ethos. Entrepreneurial ventures, whether they are spaza shops, local artisans or innovative start-ups, are a form of community development. They don't just create jobs; they forge connections and strengthen the bonds that tie our communities together.
One of the hallmarks of local business culture in SA is the value placed on personal relationships and optimism. Entrepreneurs understand the importance of community support, especially during challenging times. This was never more evident than during the Covid-19 pandemic.
When the pandemic struck it challenged the very existence of the heritage township economy businesses. These businesses, often family-owned for generations, faced unprecedented challenges. But they also demonstrated an unwavering resilience born from their cultural significance.
Take Mama Nomsa, who runs a bustling restaurant in Soweto. Forced to close her doors during lockdowns, she pivoted to provide meals for front-line workers and her community. Her business didn't just survive; it thrived because it was integral to the community's wellbeing.
The cultural significance of continuity and legacy is not unique to Mama Nomsa. It resonates with countless entrepreneurs and their communities across the country. These businesses are more than just economic entities; they are pillars of cultural identity and vibrancy.
However, the pandemic also underscored the vulnerability of these heritage businesses. Many faced closure, and with it the loss of cultural traditions and community connections. This vulnerability should serve as a stark reminder that preserving our entrepreneurial heritage is not just about economics; it's about safeguarding our cultural identity.
To ensure the continuity of this relationship between heritage and entrepreneurship we must encourage support for these businesses. We should celebrate and promote them, not just on Heritage Day or Month but year-round.
As South Africans we must appreciate the significance of entrepreneurship, not just as a means of financial growth but as a cultural treasure that makes our communities distinct and vibrant. By doing so, we not only lift our society but also make SA a better place for future generations.
In balancing tradition with adaptation in changing times we preserve our rich cultural heritage and ensure our entrepreneurial legacy endures, fostering a stronger, more resilient and culturally vibrant SA.
In the vibrant economic node of Tembisa, Ivory Park and Ebony Park there's a place that resonates with the heartbeat of SAfrican heritage: Busy Corner. At its helm stands Phumlaphi Rita Zwane, a visionary entrepreneur and the author of Conquering the Poverty of the Mind.
Rita's impact reaches far beyond entrepreneurship; every September 24 she transforms her establishment into a haven for celebrating our cultural heritage, hosting traditional events that unite communities.
Our cultural icons, like the legendary Esther Mahlangu, remind us of the richness of our heritage. Her Ndebele art has not only graced galleries but has adorned global platforms.
Maxhosa's founder, Laduma Ngxokolo, has taken our culture international through the Maxhosa Africa knitwear brand. These artists and entrepreneurs embody the essence of preserving culture through their work.
The pandemic left many entrepreneurs without livelihoods, and the fear of starting anew lingers. Just as SA's resilience is on the mend, so too is the vibrancy of entrepreneurship. The crisis, while devastating, revealed the indomitable spirit of our heritage businesses. They adapted, persevered and proved that heritage is a wellspring of innovation.
Consider the Dakar Rally, an iconic motorsport event that traverses the diverse landscapes of Senegal. This rally, originally founded in 1978, embodies the spirit of entrepreneurship deeply rooted in culture and heritage. The Dakar Rally is not just a race; it is a cultural celebration. It showcases Senegal's rich tapestry of traditions and entrepreneurial prowess. Local artisans create intricately designed vehicles, incorporating traditional artistry into the rally's very DNA.
The rally has not only become a source of immense national pride but a symbol of how entrepreneurship can preserve heritage while embracing modernity. It's a testament to the fact that culture and business need not exist in separate spheres. They can coexist, enriching one another and driving economic growth.
In Senegal, the Dakar Rally inspires entrepreneurship at all levels, from small artisans crafting rally-themed souvenirs to larger businesses seizing the opportunity to cater to the influx of spectators and tourists. It creates jobs, generates income, and shines a global spotlight on Senegal's cultural and entrepreneurial heritage.
Embracing entrepreneurship as cultural heritage strengthens the social fabric of SA. It preserves traditions, fosters innovation, and provides economic opportunities for communities. It's a pathway to unity, growth, and prosperity.
As individuals, corporations, change agents and governments our collective embrace of entrepreneurial heritage enriches our nation. It leads to more jobs, a robust economy and a stronger sense of identity.
Heritage Day beckons us to action. Let's embrace our heritage, not as a relic of the past but as a catalyst for our future. Support local and heritage businesses like Busy Corner. By doing so we preserve our culture and provide livelihoods for our communities.
• Zwane is a doctoral candidate in entrepreneurship, a Nelson Mandela scholar and founder and chair of Youth Leadership & Entrepreneurship Development.
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