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Johannesburg Launches Unique Program to Educate Street Hawkers - 2003-09-29

The city of Johannesburg is launching a unique program to educate informal traders in financial literacy. About 500 of the city's street hawkers will learn about banking, money management, and other business skills.

You see them almost everywhere in town. In Johannesburg's wealthiest suburbs, young men line the roads, hawking their wares. They move from car to car, selling goods that range from the practical to the bizarre - clothes hangers, trash bags, cellphone headsets, and sometimes brightly colored inflatable hammers in the colors of the South African flag.

In downtown Johannesburg, many informal traders have set up sidewalk stands to sell fruit, vegetables, candy, cigarettes, haircuts or telephone calls.

It is all part of South Africa's informal economy, which according to the South African Institute of Race Relations is the main source of income for more than 2.5 million people.

Now, 500 of Johannesburg's street hawkers are getting an education in basic business practices and financial management. In a novel partnership with the Johannesburg city government, students from a local university are passing on the lessons they have learned in class to the city's informal traders.

The university is called CIDA City Campus, and its chief executive, Taddy Blecher, says many of the street traders have little or no formal education, a legacy of the apartheid era. "We call them in South Africa the lost generation. They are people who through the apartheid years did not get the opportunities that they should have got. As a result, they are kind of eking out a living in a kind of survivalist way, and we want to help them become a lot more successful," he said.

The hawkers will learn about managing a budget, putting together a business plan so they can get small loans to expand their enterprises, and marketing or product research. Mr. Blecher says many of the traders sell exactly the same merchandise, and some could make a lot more money if their products were unique or specialized.

As for the CIDA City Campus students, they are all working on degrees in business administration. Mr. Blecher says teaching helps them learn much better than just taking notes in class.

He hopes the street-hawker education drive will spark similar programs in other African countries. This is really what we need to do in developing nations. There is all the resources we need, and we do not necessarily need huge handouts of funding in developing nations. We need people to become self-sufficient. We need people to be able to help themselves. So to do that we need to create an enormous entrepreneurial mindset," he said.

Mr. Blecher says the response to the financial literacy courses has been impressive. Classes started Saturday, and he says one eager student is already vowing to have a business listed on the Johannesburg stock exchange within three years.

While that may be a slightly unrealistic goal, Mr. Blecher thinks that is exactly the attitude South Africans need to take, to lift themselves out of the informal sector, and out of poverty.