Rural EC entrepreneurs successfully driving local economy

From livestock to dinosaur fossils, two women entrepreneurs in Sterkspruit, in the Eastern Cape’s far northern district of Joe Gqabi, are drawing on their local knowledge to seize local opportunities to make their own way and build future prosperity for their families.

Farmer and livestock trader Thandeka Kama draws on her childhood experience of sheep and cattle herding in her business, while Yoliswa Sigudu shares her fascination with the area’s cultural heritage and internationally recognised dinosaur graveyard as a tour guide and host of a B&B and camping site.

The two women are amongst 23 participants in the University of Stellenbosch (USB) Small Business Academy (SBA) programme, sponsored by the Joe Gqabi Economic Development Agency (JoGEDA) with the aim of empowering entrepreneurs to grow sustainable businesses and employment in the deeply rural area close to the Lesotho border, where unemployment pre-Covid was running at more than 35%.

The district seat is Barkly East and the municipality includes the towns of Maletswai (previously known as Aliwal-North), Burgersdorp, Maclear, Steynsburg and Ugie.

For Yoliswa Sigudu, 48, her journey has taken her from her home village of Qhemerha outside Sterkspruit to Dublin, Ireland, and back again to establish Sigudu B&B and Camping on her family’s 9 ha property in the Drakensberg foothills close to the Orange River, six years ago. She has grown to employing three people.

Despite the town’s small size, a massive dinosaur fossil find in 2018 shone the international spotlight on Qhemerha, attracting researchers and palaeontology tourists, hikers, anglers and history buffs, from South Africa as well as globally to book at her establishment.


Sigudu is passionate about the cultural history of the area – which includes Khoisan paintings, historic cave hideouts and Frontier War battlefields – and enjoys guiding her guests in exploring and discovering its many attractions.

While the Covid-19 pandemic put a severe dent in local visitors, and even worse in terms of the international guests, Sigudu took the time out to obtain her tour guide certification and adapt her business to include conferencing and hosting organised hiking trails in the scenic mountainous area.

“We have the great advantage of being able to host guests mostly outdoors in the fresh air, for hiking, running, fishing, camping. People can camp and observe physical distancing, we comply with the regulations and offer a safe environment for a getaway with lots to do, or just relaxing in the mountain air,” says Sigudu.

With a diploma in Food Service Management from the former Wits Technikon, experience in hospitality in Ireland and owning her own restaurants in Johannesburg, Sigudu returned to Sterkspruit initially to help her brother run his business, and started her own when the fossil find started drawing visitors from all over the world to the village.

“Having worked for other people, in other businesses, I realised that the only way to get ahead in this industry is to do it for yourself. It’s not easy, but it’s better for my family’s future, and that is why I was so glad to be selected for the SBA programme because it is helping me learn the skills go manage and grow my business,” the mother-of-three said.

She said the SBA programme had helped to sharpen her financial management skills, enabling her to ask the right questions and making her less dependent on accountants’ advice, and after finishing the course in November she plans to enrol on the USB MBA programme.

“I have loved the knowledge and networks gained on the SBA programme, and I love learning. Times are changing and you have to be able to continually adapt and adjust, that’s why I want to go on to the MBA,” she said.

For farmer and livestock trader Thandeka Kama, 30, owning her own business is about securing the future for her baby daughter.

Although her two-year-old business is still in its infancy and highly seasonal – dependent on sheep shearing and traditional ceremonies at this stage – she works closely with her husband and extended family in their businesses too.

“It’s very hard, but I love it, I love working for myself and being responsible for my own destiny. I grew up in this area, looking after livestock since childhood, and so this is a natural choice. I have the advantage in this area over other informal livestock traders in that I am a registered company and a registered breeder and farmer,” she said.

While her challenges are mostly nature-related – the Eastern Cape’s severe drought, as well as threats of veld fire and disease – she said the SBA programme had helped her address her business challenges, especially in managing finances and marketing.

JoGEDA chief executive Ayanda Gqoboka said that results for the more than 91 businesses that have now been through the programme had been “outstanding” in enabling entrepreneurs to structure, focus and plan for their businesses.


He said that empowering small businesses to move out of survivalist mode and become sustainable engines of economic growth and employment creation was part of JoGEDA’S strategy to diversify economic activity in the district, unlock the potential for growth in sectors such as agro-processing and manufacturing, and create local employment opportunities that would retain young people in the district.

SBA head Dr Armand Bam said the programme was developed, and first rolled out in Cape Town, in response to the high failure rate of small businesses. Today the programme sees enormous success across Greater Cape Town, Stellenbosch and the Eastern Cape.

“Our vision is to make a difference in the lives and businesses of small business owners in low-income communities, building sustainability and eventually supporting them in such a way that they can play a vital role in alleviating poverty by creating employment,” he said.


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