WATCH: Small businesses and street vendors already suffering due to virus outbreak

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WATCH: Small businesses and street vendors already suffering due to virus outbreak

Vilakazi street in Soweto deserted after the Corona Virus outbreak, 17 March 2020. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is already being felt by those who earn a living in the tourism and hospitality industry, as well as street vendors and artists.

Businesses in the world-famous Vilakazi Street in Soweto say they are feeling the pinch as the novel coronavirus crisis keeps visitors away. The Citizen spoke to business owners, their staff and other informal traders to find out how the crisis was affecting them. Nkululeko-Dada Maseko, the owner of Soweto Gin Studio, said he had been running his business for the last three months. Normally, Vilakazi Street is a tourist drawcard as it is the only street in the world where two Nobel Prize laureates – Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu – used to live.

Soweto Gin Studio-owner Nkululeko-Dada Maseko speaks to The Citizen at his business at Vilikazi Street in Johannesburg, 17 March 2020. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

On Tuesday, the usually ubiquitous tourist buses were gone, and the buzz of foreign languages spoken by the multitude of international visitors was absent. The restaurants were deserted, and the normal jovial mood was sombre.

Maseko said: “At the moment we’re not letting anyone (workers) go. We are just changing the rosters around because the revenue is challenged on a daily basis due to the low impact of customers at the restaurant. Customers are provided with hand sanitiser to disinfect their hands when entering the restaurant. These are found in the bathrooms as well. Our chefs are expected to wash their hands regularly and if anyone is experiencing any kind of symptoms they need to stay at home. We also clean our surfaces with detergents.”

Vuyo’s restaurant manager Nick Mabunda. Picture:Nigel Sibanda

Nick Mabunda, a manager of Vuyo’s on Vilakazi Street, said: “We appreciated the announcement made by the president, but it has come with a price because tourists made up most of our customers. The banning of international visitors from some countries is the reason for the decline in customers. But I believe that our locals will continue to come out and dine at the restaurant in their numbers. Although it has left a big financial gap, we are not letting any of our staff go but we are changing their hours to cut their share down.”

Vuyo’s restaurant waitress Mbali Mbanjwa. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Mbali Mbanjwa, who has been working as a waiter at Vuyo’s restaurant for the past five years, said: “I have not been too comfortable coming to work since the virus crisis started, but I need to make a living. Our tips have decreased by 40% due to fewer tourists. This has a bad effect on our livelihood as we make most of our money from tips. I do fear not being able to come to work and the company not being able to pay us because we are closed down.”

Vilakazi Street street vendor, Sizakele Khumalo sells souvenirs which represent South Africa, including coasters, jewellery mugs and placemats. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Sizakele Khumalo is a vendor on Vilakazi Street and sells souvenirs which depict the country. These include coasters, jewellery mugs and placemats. She said: “The president has not thought about business owners who provide for their families. We are suffering. If this continues I will have to resort to selling my products online. It’s funny that even our local customers refuse to buy from us because they say that we are the people who are in contact with foreigners, and we will give them the virus because we get it from our foreign customers.”

Vilakazi Street dancer Samuel Khumalo. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Samuel Khumalo is a dancer who entertains visitors on Vilakazi Street. He said: “We can no longer support our kids. It has become difficult as we are creating jobs for ourselves instead of doing crime. This is breaking us because we have no customers to perform for.”

Emmanuel Phacule, a street vendor who sells fruit and snacks, said: “Most of my customers are afraid to buy from me but I do tell them that the fruit has been washed off before. The virus has affected my business.”

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