Saeed Furaa arrived in South Africa in 1998 after fleeing Somalia where he had worked as a shepherd. Against the backdrop of xenophobic violence in April, Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu said that foreigners needed to share their business practices with local business owners. Yet this is exactly what Furaa and other Somalis have been doing.
A 2014 report from the Migrating for Work Research Consortium (MiWORC), an organisation that examines migration and its impact on the South African labour market found “People born outside the country were far less likely than those born in South Africa to be employees, and far more likely to be own account workers (self-employed without employers) or employers.”This is apparent in Johannesburg’s “Little Mogadishu” where the city’s Somali entrepreneurs thrive in streets full of busy shops selling everything from underwear to internet services at very low prices.
Furaa has teamed with other Somali businesspeople in South Africa to start programs that pass on entrepreneurial skills to unemployed South African youth, especially in the informal sector.
“My plan has always been to get successful entrepreneurs, starting within the Somali community, to mentor and train local youth. I hope this will contribute towards creating sustained employment and entrepreneurial spin-offs. It also promotes integration between our community and our host society,” Furaa said.
Furaa is particularly interested in the informal sector because this is where most of the country’s Somali business owners got their start.
The first trickle of Somalis came to South Africa as refugees in the mid-nineties. Most made their start by hawking clothing, shoes and non-perishable groceries until the early 2000s when they formed business networks to share the cost of establishing “cash-and-carries”, wholesale warehouses selling a variety of products at lower mark-ups with profit coming from the fast turnover of stock. This is the key to what sets Somali businesses apart from local competitors.