The data was collected by the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation www.livelihoods.org <http://www.livelihoods.org which undertook research into the understudied field of the township informal economy in South Africa. The research resulted in the collection of data on township micro-enterprises and firm characteristics. The SLF research comprised three components: i) a business census, ii) a firm survey, and iii) interviews with firm entrepreneurs which collected qualitative data. Only the data from the firm survey has been publicly released. The business census results and the qualitative component of the research have not been released, as these contain personally identifiable data that would breach the anonymity of participants.
A micro-enterprise is defined as a business operating on a very small scale, usually as a sole proprietor or small family business, having fewer than six employees. While most businesses operating in the township informal economy adhere to this description, a few are indeed larger in terms of employment and enterprise characteristics. The SLF data includes some of these larger businesses. The firm surveys collected data from six sectors: i) grocery retailers (spaza shops), ii) liquor traders (taverns and shebeens), iii) educares, iv) hair salons, v) traditional healers and vii) metalwork businesses.
The rationale for the SLF research was the relative scarcity of detailed information on township micro-enterprises at the area level. The area level equates to the scale of a small township settlement and/or several neighbourhoods, in the case of larger settlements. The aim was to research settlements that comprise approximately 10,000 households within an area of 2.5km2 or smaller. In the sites that were researched, the selected area tended to comprise one or more sub-place areas (the geographic units used in the official population census enumeration process by Statistics South Africa).
Kind of Data
Census enumeration data
Unit of Analysis
Individuals and institutions
Version 1: Edited, anonymised data for public distribution
Version 1 of the dataset was received by DataFirst on the 25th of November, 2016
The questionnaire for the survey changed over time, and different versions were administered to different areas at different times.
Applied: Delft South (November-December 2010 and March-May 2011)
Version 1 of the questionnaire applied to three sectors: spaza shops, educare and liquor trader. The three sectors shared a set of standard questions: the business name, address, date of the interview, interviewee nationality, name and gender, owner's name in case the interviewee was not the owner, type of structure that housed the business and the time in business. This was followed by a set of questions specific to each sector.
Spaza shops: This consisted of a list of items to compare prices. The list comprised items commonly sold. An additional section on experiences of crime was also part of the spaza questionnaire.
Educare services: The additional items pertained to the number of learners under and over five years of age, the cost per child per week and per month, food provided, number of teachers/carers and other staff, whether the business was registered with the Provincial Government of the Western Cape (PGWC) or DSD, and whether the business received support from the City of Cape Town (CoCT).
Liquor trading outlets: Questions related to on-site consumption, licencing, date applied for a licence, signage, and the amount of crates of beer sold per week (of 12 x 750 ml). There was an item on what the traders sold and what assets they had. Finally, there were questions on whether the business had been raided by police or closed down as a result of the raid in the past 12 months.
Applied: Delft, Vrygrond, Browns Farm, Sweet Home Farm (May-November 2011)
Spaza shops: The price of mealie meal (1kg/5kg) was added, followed by additional questions on whether the shop owner is part of any buying collectives, if they have goods delivered, where they go for stock purchase, and whether they pay rent. The item on buying collectives was added because of identified changes in the nature of entrepreneurship. The standard questions still included details on crime. Liquor trading outlets: The questionnaire also had an added question on crime.
Applied: Ivory Park, Tembisa (June-July 2012)
Spaza shops: A question on the number of employees was added to the general questions. Nationality was changed to nationality/home language. This was used to gain clarification on national status, especially in the spaza sector, where some informants were reluctant to admit they were not South African citizens. A question was also added question on quantities sold each day for 1L milk, loaves of bread and cartons of cigarettes. The crime categories were changed. 'Attempted murder' was removed, because it was often unclear how to distinguish between attempted murder, assault and armed robbery. Two new questions were added, one inquiring after the main barriers to growth for the business, and one acceptable price for the business. This question was inserted in response to the finding that many businesses, notably spaza shops, were being sold.
Educare facilities: questionnaire now also included the same questions on barriers to growth and business value, as well as a question on how the business was started. The age categories for the children in attendance were refined to under 12 months, 1-5, grade R and other.
Liquor trading outlets: The questionnaire included the questions on perceived value of the enterprise, how the business was started and barriers to growth. There was a new item concerning the presence or absence of signage (business identity), Traditional beer was added to the category of liquor sold. Interviewers were asked to note if businesses were owned by non-South Africans.
In version 3, three new sectors were included, namely hair salons, traditional healers and street traders.
Hair salons: The questionnaire included the standard questions on owner's name, cell phone number, gender and age of informant, as well as questions on whether the business is family run, whether the interviewee is the owner or an employee, and their home language. Home language was employed as a proxy for nationality. Added questions included whether the owner started the business or acquired it from someone else, the structure the business is housed in, the days traded per week and how many days the business would have to trade to make a R10,000 profit. Hair salon owners and employees were questioned in detail on their most common service, how much they would sell their business for. They were also asked open-ended questions for other sectors on where the interviewee gets their stock, how the business was started and what barriers to growth can be identified. There is also an open-ended question on how their business has been affected by crime in the past five years.
Traditional healers: questionnaire introduced in version 3 had more specific questions relating to the sourcing of medicines and herbs, patients and services offered, in addition to general questions about the entrepreneur.
Applied: Imizamo Yethu (January 2013)
Educare facilities: Three new open-ended items were added pertaining to asset ownership, money-lending, and other income, and whether the business had a playground. The question on whether they were registered with PGWC was changed to whether they were registered with the DoE. The item on whether they were supported by the CoCT was removed. Instead, there was a question on whether they received municipal or other support.
Liquor trading outlets: New questions were added on payment of workers (in kind, profit, wage or other), and on whether the traders supply other shebeens. Open-ended questions on money-lending, other income sources and assets were added.
Hair salons: Questions were added on where the owner got their stock, how the business was started, the main barriers to growth, other income sources, assets ownership, money lending as a business activity, where skills were acquired, how workers were paid, if credit was offered to customers, and whether money was ever borrowed for the business.
Traditional healers: This questionnaire had similar open-ended questions added on where they bought their medicines, how they started the business, main barriers to growth, and money lending as a business, other income sources and assets ownership. Additional questions pertained to whether they supplied medicines to other healers, belonged to an association, or assisted patients to improve their businesses.
Applied: KwaMashu (July 2013)
Spaza shops: This version included questions on employees, home language, quantities sold each day, crime, main barriers to growth for the business, and the value of the business, ownership of other businesses, how and why they opened the business, why they chose the business site, how long they had been running the business, and if they owned the property or paid rent. They were also asked about other sources of income, and main source of income. This questionnaire also covers previous employment of those active in the spaza sector, how they gained their skills, whether they employ family members or non-family members and why they do not employ more workers. There are also questions on whether in the last year there was more stock and more customers and whether the business can generate savings. Additionally, there were questions on barriers to business, competition, with other spaza shops or shopping malls. A section on assets was also added..
Educare facilities: The questionnaire now included similar questions to the spaza sector survey, including questions on how and why the business was started, how skills were gained, the employment of family members, choice of site, why more workers are not employed, generating savings, and whether stock and customers were increasing. Questions were also asked on barriers to business. New questions were added on signage, the presence of a playground, and the number of teachers employed full-time or part-time. The survey now inquired about support from the municipality, NGOs or the business community, and whether the educare provides aftercare. A section on assets was also added.
Liquor trading outlets: questions specific to the sector added, such as who constituted the main customers of the business
Hair salons also had questions specific to the sector added, as above.
Manufacturing firms: This section was added in version 5 of the questionnaire. General questions were the same as for the other micro-enterprises. Extra questions were on core business, minimum service charges, cost and production of products, and value chain dynamics.
The survey enumerated micro-enterprises in the following areas:
Browns Farm, Delft South, Imizamo Yethu (Hout Bay), Sweet Home Farm (Philippi) and Vrygrond (including Capricorn, Overcome Heights, and Seawinds), near Muizenberg in the Cape Town Metropolitan area in the Western Cape Province.
KwaMashu, in the KwaZulu Natal Province
Ivory Park (East of Johannesburg) and Tembisa, under the City of Ekurhuleni in the Gauteng Province.
The data is at the level of the individual townships surveyed.
The universe under study is micro-enterprises in selected South African townships
Producers and sponsors
Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation
Research Project on Employment, Income Distribution and Inclusive Growth
Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation
Dates of Data Collection
Data Collection Mode
Data Collection Notes
The rationale for the SLF research was the relative scarcity of detailed information on township micro-enterprises at the area level. To address the shortage of area information, SLF advanced a mixed methods approach termed 'small-area census'. First, a census of all verifiable economic activities in an area was conducted, to identify spatial distribution and patterns. Second, sector-selected respondents from all identified micro-enterprises were interviewed. Third, qualitative and participatory evidence was examined, along with the survey data to understand the social, economic and political dynamics facing micro-enterprises in the township context.
Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation
The small area census method allowed for iterative revisions of the survey instruments, to explore emergent themes. This resulted in successive refinements of the questionnaires. There were five revisions of the survey in total.