The South African Spaza Shop: An Endangered

In the heart of one of the oldest townships in South Africa is Kates Spaza shop. A spaza that has been the cornerstone of the Meadowlands community for almost 40 years. Through its inception it has seen the best of the turbulent transitions of the passing of ages and the birth of new era's. 

Through the rapids of ever changing times, the 80's right through to the late 2000"s, Kates Spaza was once a bustling retail business that boasted a product mix of grocery products, fast food and a butchery extension all conjoined by the hopes and aspirations of the pioneering matriarch at the forefront of this Spaza, Kate Mpofu (74). All you would have to do is ask about Mama Kate as she is more affectionately known and you will quickly realize that she is commonly understood as a stalwart of this very community.

Fast Track to late 2019 and this pantheon that once stood firm as a local temple of entrepreneurial spirit is all but a terminal remnant of its former glory. Critical socio-political developmental errors have been it's unrelenting affliction, as the rapid and malignant spread of organized foreign owned spaza shops has delivered numerous devastating blows to her business over the later years and she has had to resign herself to watching helplessly as they have surrounded and encrouched on her business , feeding on it's carcass like a pack of hyenas.

In our South African dream, we have all reminisced over and romanticized of a perfect South Africa, the default idea of the government coming to her aid would be what every reader of this post would take so swiftly to believing. However in reality the collective consciousness and wisdom of every South African will relay the sad common perspective that the very government we edge ourselves to trust, would only exacerbate the demise of Kates Spaza Shop.

In Spectacular fashion this very truth came to fruition and in November of 2019 a SEFA funded Pick'n Pay convenience grocer opened it's doors literally ten steps across the road from Kates Spaza entrance. This development by it's very nature immoral, insipid and downright treacherous was meant to be the final fatal blow that would lay a families hopes and dreams for a better life to rest. The proverbial boxing analogy "down for the count" was the case. Kates Spaza in January 2020 closed it's doors for what many understood as it's final stance in the township retail battleground. However what the proverbial boxing analogy does not complete in it's frame of reference is the term "but not out", as was the case for the Mpofu family. 

As the coming months would allude to, the pressure to close shop was not one of defeated will, no, it emanated from an exhaustion of efforts and that would be the basis for which what I have come to know as a resurrection of legendary proportions. 

In May 2020 Mama Kate and her son Kabelo did the unthinkable and re-opened. The merchandise of this re-opening coming from a collective sacrifice that the entire family endured, of having to save a large portion of the old ladies pension income for months, a pension that they largely depended on to survive as a collective. For months they had managed spare the pennies to the extent that they were able to raise R3500.00. Meager for most I concede but this humble penance was the cost of redeeming a family legacy that preceded this families current 4 generations. It was enough for Kabelo Mpofu to pick up the baton on the ground where his mother had laid wounded and begin to redefine the gifts of survival.

Kabelo Mpofu (38) reinvigorated with a silent and brut will to no longer survive but succeed, began to think of new ways of strengthening the Spaza Shop against all its ruthless prevailing realities. The result of which being the decision to improve their position on the value chain with suppliers, negotiating aggressively for discounts, rebates and better pricing and ultimately leading to him finding his way to sourcing fresh produce direct from farmers rather than the central market. His choice of cash-crop being the freshest spinach I have ever seen.

This new perspective on an old family business was the answer they had long prayed for, an answer that turned the tide on the Spaza's survival as 3 months into this new era, Kates Tuck-shop is now supplying over 10 000 bunches of spinach a week to various big retailers and their most recent client being the Pick'n Pay right across their eyes.

Yes South African owned Spaza shops are an endangered species but their footprints are still fresh in the sand.


Written by:  Thabiso Mongane