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Despite a challenging economy and disruptions, townships have become hubs for big development especially in the retail and shopping centre industry, says Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Lemok Group, Lebogang Mokubela. According to Mokubela, the township market in South Africa is growing at a rapid pace.

Patience Mlangeni from Lemok Group with the award“The township retail market is a force of its own and should not be overlooked or underestimated as it currently has the buying power of over R11 billion. The number of shoppers who turn out at Maponya Mall at any given weekend bears testimony to this. As an example, sitting at 65000m2, the R650-million Maponya Mall in Soweto is one of the largest retail hubs in South Africa,” he says.

“What drives profitability within the township market is a balance between a sought-after tenant mix as well as entertainment. Previously, you wouldn't find high-end stores such as Woolworths Food in the township, however we are seeing a bigger demand for such stores. This is also driven by the fact that the township market is very diverse. For example, you can have someone who earns R1000 a month all the way to guy who spends R1000 on a bottle of champagne.”

He adds that social cohesion is important among township communities and big business houses and decision makers need to be aware of this. “Most people would be surprised how diverse the township market is. What drives resonance in the market is simply social cohesion - people want to see and be seen. Shopping centres that can create spaces and initiatives where the market can, and will want to be seen at, will win. I would suggest that developers and shopping centre marketing managers need to consider the demographic profile of the specific township before developing a mall or shopping centre.”

They also need to pay careful consideration to tenant mix to ensure shops will be used frequently by township shoppers, Mokubela says. “Let's not assume a Boxer or Royal Butchery is what is needed. There is an ever-growing discerning consumer within the township market who'd rather drive to Mall of Africa, living in Soshanguve, just to get the experience they're looking for. Not everyone is poor in the township. Not everyone speaks slang in the township. These are just some of the misconceptions brands carry and often this is the source of many shortcomings.”

This is one of the reasons Mokubela started the township-based collective of companies, the Lemok Group. A marketing company, the Lemok Group recently won the 2018 Township Entrepreneurship Awards (TEA). The Awards recognise and reward South African entrepreneurial talent in the townships.

“This award is further confirmation that our pursuit of excellence in our field is not in vain. Township does not mean inadequate. We are on mission to the right the wrongs and change the face of township businesses and effectively compete in the mainstream economy. I want to thank all those who voted for us and I want to thank my team for their dedication and hard work that made this possible,” Mokubela says.

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