Entrepreneurs vs Survivalists: Somali and South African Spaza Shop Business
Practices in Delft South, Cape Town
Rory Liedeman & Laurence Piper
Urban Informality and Migrant Entrepreneurship in South African Cities, 9-11 February
Research Goal
• To establish whether the advent of foreign run
spaza businesses was due to a particular
‘entrepreneurial’ business model.
• To understand ‘the forces’ responsible for supporting
this model.
Essentially a case study of how social networks enable
entrepreneurialism amongst Somali but not South
African traders in Delft South, Cape Town.
• 2011 Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation (SLF) conducted
a larger study mapping and interviewing Spazas in Delft
and 8 other sites in CCT, JHB and DBN
• Emergent findings from this research included the rise of
Somali-run shops in Delft, with market success linked to
competition on price etc; perception that Somali
operated mor eentreprenurial ways than local
‘survivalists’ (Charman et la 2011)
• Notably, economic competition cited as one of the main
reasons behind xenophobic attacks in Cape Town (Bseiso
2006, Ndenze 2006a, b).
• This project seeks to explore in more qualitative detail
these alleged differences in business practices to answer
the question, why are Somali spaza shops more
successful in Delft?
Three key research questions
1. Is there indeed a shift in spaza ownership
from South African to Somali shopkeepers in
2. What are the key business practices and can
we speak of two distinct models?
3. What is the significance of social networks
and associated business culture to business
Site Description and Demographics
• Delft South is a mixed race working class
suburb located on the Cape Flats in the
Western Cape of around 20 000 people
• Approximately 60% of the working age
population is unemployed
• The high street or ‘main road’ and residential
areas host a variety of businesses
• No shopping malls in Delft South. Spaza
shops satisfy an important business service.
Spaza shops are second most
common businesses
Other informal business includes:
• Street traders (sweets, chips and vetkoek to school goers and pedestrians)
• Green grocers (commonly known as Fruit and Veg traders)
• Barber shops and hair salons
• Pool and arcade entertainment
• Taverns and shebeens
• Primarily an ‘in-depth ethnographic approach’. Some survey
work too.
• Methods and tools include:
– In-depth interviews and oral histories of journeys into South Africa
(cumulative note taking and observation = 2-3 hours for each of the
13 individual case studies)
– Dictaphone (when allowed)
– Field diary, informal conversations observations
– Global Positioning System, mapping of spaza landscape
• Somali interpreter, crucial to establishing rapport and
Findings for research question 1:
A major shift in spaza ownership and market share
has been observed between May 2011 and June 2012
(ie after the SLF survey).
• 12 South African spazas closed – only 5 remain open
(decrease from 57% market share to 22%)
• Ownership of foreign spazas increase from 13 to 18 – a
total market share gain of 31%
• With a 23% decrease in the total number of (30 to 23), the
market share of foreign spaza businesses increased from
43% to 78% in 13 months i.e. 18 spazas now foreign owned
Findings for research question 2:
The change in ownership and market share was a direct
result of the emergence, and use of a new, and more
sophisticated business model
• Evidence of a contrast between a ‘survivalist’ model (slow
organic businesses of South Africans) and a large scale
‘entrepreneurial’ model (multiple partnerships and large
investment by Somali spaza operators)
• ‘Entrepreneurial’ model is primarily based upon being price
competitive, made possible through collective investment,
procurement and distribution networks.
• The research operationalized the concept of ‘business
models’ by exploring 5 major categories of the business.
Operationalising Business Models
Detailed documentation of :
1. spaza establishment process (including
ownership, contracts/agreements, labour and
2. capital investment
3. stock procurement behaviour
4. business operation (operating times, banking
5. mobile distribution to spaza shops (access to
transport and spaza product distribution
One example: Somali capital investments into spaza
Findings relevant to research question 3:
The social networks that South African and Somali
spaza owners can access is key to these differences
in business practices in Delft South.
• Most South African spaza operators limit their ability to grow the
spaza network and access ‘social capital’, as the business is not
entrusted to others beyond ‘immediate’ family ties. Extended
family rarely counts.
• In the case of Somali operators, social and business networks,
exist and are active in all of the 5 major classifications of spaza
business. Assistance is therefore present and available from the
• Most Somali operators are able grow their spaza networks
through both immediate and extended family consisting of clan
members and close friends.
The study demonstrates:
How the socially richer and clan-based social networks of Somali
shopkeepers enable a more entrepreneurial business model,
whereas South Africans rely on a network limited to the
immediate family and approach the spaza business as a
supplementary livelihoods strategy.
The research also provides new insights into the strategic use of
both formality and informality by foreign business people (e.g.
banking, rental agreements, business agreements)
the significance of spatiality to the spaza economy through the
concepts of ‘strongholds’ and ‘neighbourhood economies’; and
previously unseen forms of spaza related business, principally
around the mobile distribution of spaza stock to retailers in Delft.
South African vs. Somali : stock
Participant 50mSom02 offloading spaza products to a Somali shop in Delft
South. Owns a spaza shop in Elsies River and is also a partner of another
spaza business based in Gugulethu. The transportation business generates an
additional R5000 per month.
Mobile Distribution: Popular ‘value pack sausage’ and pies (background) sold
by Somali, Pakistani, Burundi, Malawi and Egyptian agents.
‘High top’ canopies are popular as they provide additional spaza to stock spaza
products. They are widely used in the trade by individuals in ‘stock
transportation’ and ‘mobile distribution’ networks.
Contraband cigarettes are key factor in the success of
many foreign run spaza shops. The existence of the 50c
‘loose stick’ is ubiquitous in the Delft area

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