What Price Cheap Goods? Survivalists, Informalists and Competition in the Township Retail Grocery Trade

About 54% of South Africa’s township microenterprises trade in food or drink. More than two-thirds of these are grocery retail businesses in the form of spaza shops and smaller ‘house shops’. These are the predominant businesses within the ‘township economy’ and play an important role in food security, self-employment and community cohesion. In the last decade, the business of spaza shops (dedicated, signposted businesses with a range of foodstuffs and open five days per week or more) has undergone extensive change towards a new class of entrepreneurial traders – mostly foreign nationals. This change has meant that the sector has become increasingly controversial and associated with chauvinistic and xenophobic discourses targeting immigrants. While the nature, causes and extent of change in informal grocery retail markets have been noted by various authors over the past decade, there is as yet no comprehensive account of the changing nature of business dynamics and competitiveness in the sector.