Women breaking barriers and cooking up jobs

South Africa is celebrating this year’s Women Month under the theme: “Women’s Socio-Economic Rights and Empowerment: Building Back Better for Women’s Resilience!” It is a call to action for the country to take tangible steps in responding to the most persistent challenges affecting the lives of women and girls.

According to the 2021 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs report released in March 2022, women account for only 19.4% of business owners in South Africa.

Through the National Treasury, the Jobs Fund leverages public-private partnerships to create sustainable jobs and foster an environment that promotes equal access to resources. The Fund prioritises women and youth, empowering them with the skills they need to enter the labour force or grow their businesses. Thus far (as at 30 June 2022), Jobs Fund-supported initiatives have created over 294,000 jobs, the majority of which are filled by women (57%) and youth (64%). In addition, over 68,000 SMMEs have been supported, 73% of which are women-owned.

It is well-researched and documented that economically empowered women contribute more to their families, communities and economies, resulting in benefits for society as a whole (International Center for Research on Women ). Development initiatives focusing on women's empowerment are therefore fundamental for achieving broader development goals. The Jobs Fund recognises this and focuses in the main on supporting projects that promote these goals.

Although the economy and business have been hard hit by the pandemic, GDP (Stats SA Q1 2022 ) has finally returned to pre-Covid levels, with many sectors showing good signs of recovery, including tourism. During the lockdown, tourism took a significant knock, and Jobs Fund-supported initiatives in this sector also felt the pressure. However, new opportunities emerged as projects, and SMMEs learned to adapt to a new normal and innovate in the face of new challenges.

Increases in entrepreneurial innovation and activity are also noted in the Mastercard report, where South Africa is listed as one of 12 (out of 65) economies where women’s entrepreneurial activity rates increased in 2021, with 11.1% of working-age women engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activities (up from 10.2% in 2020). There was also an increase in female necessity-driven entrepreneurship from 62.8% to 91.2%, largely due to income loss during the pandemic and national lockdowns.

Whether necessity or opportunity-driven, SMMEs require support to grow and contribute to the economy and job creation. American singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey once said, “Doing what you love is freedom. Loving what you do is happiness.” Two women taking that to heart are Zulfa Cassiem and Charmaine Govender-Koen. They have built their businesses through passion and determination and have found a home at the V&A Waterfront’s Makers Landing.

Makers Landing is the R66 million initiative of the V&A Waterfront, supported by the National Treasury’s Jobs Fund. It is a Food Community located at The Cruise Terminal, a 10 800m² space that is Cape Town’s first opportunity to welcome visitors, and as the saying goes, you only get one first impression, so make it count.

The cruise line industry offers enormous potential for tourism growth in South Africa, with knock-on opportunities for food tourism which has significant job and small business creation potential. The Jobs Fund recognised Makers Landing’s ability to foster inclusive economic growth through its support of micro food businesses and approved grant funding for the initiative. Amongst many things, the Jobs Fund grant funding subsidised the Kitchen Incubator Programme, an immersive accelerator course empowering food entrepreneurs to develop their skills and businesses. This programme combines in-class learning with practical experience in a commercial kitchen while providing expert support and facilitation to empower small-scale food entrepreneurs.

The concept is about breaking down barriers for food entrepreneurs to access restaurants and spaces within the V&A, to showcase their food and develop their businesses and brands. Food entrepreneurs tend to start their food businesses out of necessity or because of their love for food. Zulfa Cassiem and Charmaine Govender-Koen represent each of the above.

Charmaine Govender-Koen is a self-taught cook from a big Indian family in Durban, who now resides in Cape Town. Govender-Koen started Charm’s Kitchen in May 2020 during the pandemic, when she saw a need for home cooking during the Covid-19 National lockdown.

“I went into furlough for seven months during lockdown, and since I already had the Durban recipes, I decided to start a daily home-meals service, as everyone wanted home food, and I decided to include delivery. I could tell hospitality was going to take a while to recover, so I had to think quickly.”

Govender-Koen is big on flavour and creates Durban-Indian-inspired meals with a contemporary twist that reflects her passion for fine cuisine.

She first heard about Makers Landing on the radio while driving around Cape Town and thought she could do it.

Govender-Koen says the programme pushed her to make her business viable and allowed her to create a delicious frozen range. Another major step in building the next big thing in the industry was applying to be a contestant in Season 4 of Master Chef South Africa, shot at Makers Landing. She described her journey on the show as “inspired, reimagined and innovative”.

For Zulfa Cassiem, Ooh Fudge started as a leisurely pursuit and experimentation with different flavours to the delight of her family. Cassiem has admitted to having a sweet tooth and enjoying her time experimenting with a few recipes around the kitchen and making all sorts of sweet treats. The turning point from hobby to business was her chocolate-based fudge, which her family and friends loved. She started selling these confectionary delights at markets, and they went down a treat.

Since 2015, Cassiem has been sharing her passion for fudge with her family and community through Ohh Fudge, which was established as an artisanal craft brand. In 2017, the brand’s success prompted Cassiem and her husband to turn Ooh Fudge into a formal business and improve the product, packaging and customer care.

“The product captures the nostalgia of years gone by while keeping to the current bespoke consumer needs trends. Offering a new take on fudge, it’s a smooth, flavoured fudge that will make grannies proud while tickling the tastebuds of the younger generations. It truly is a product that appeals to a wide array of demographics and cultures. Although especially enjoyed around big holidays and occasions, fudge is not a seasonal product and can be sold throughout the year,” Cassiem beams.

Ooh Fudge’s mission is to be the Halaal confectionary brand of choice for all occasions.

Cassiem saw an opportunity to join the Makers Landing space when she attended the Flexi Market, which usually takes place Saturdays and Sundays. The information she received about the initiative convinced her to apply for the Kitchen Incubator Programme via the online application platform.

Cassiem is part of the first cohort to graduate from the Kitchen Incubator Programme. Her business is now located in the first pod space at Makers Landing, taking it to another level.

Some people often get sucked in by the glitz and glamour of an industry, only to realise that the day-to-day work isn’t what they thought it would be. Having your heart in it makes the hard days easier.

Cassiem testifies that the kitchen incubator programme made life easy for her as her life-work balance was poor. Running a business from home makes it hard to draw the line and have quality family time, so Cassiem appreciates the access to the professional space and equipment and the ability to lock up and go home. She is now part of a community of mindful businesspeople and receives guidance from Cape Townian chef Jenny Ward.

Ooh Fudge is now presented in professional food-grade packaging that is visually appealing, complies with regulations and is practical for consumers and traders. Cassiem wants to expand the business to supply local independent and large retailers and the international market.

While women entrepreneurs are slowly playing a more significant role in the South African economy, there is a need to address the structural challenges of social and gender inequalities hindering their progress. South Africa must actively create the right social, political, and economic conditions for women to thrive and secure future economic growth.

Makers Landing has supported 124 small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), 64% of which belong to women, and 96% are black-owned.

Women need tailored support, like that provided by Makers Landing, so that they can tip the scales and create a more inclusive economy for women. When women are given the keys to create something great, they are more likely to exceed expectations and develop their communities.

Cassiem, for instance, remains consistent in trying to give back, launching the ‘You Are Loved’ campaign with the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Abused Women and Children. The campaign is raising funds for care packages to let the women and children know that they are appreciated and that there are people out there who want to empower and assist them.

The Jobs Fund is proud of the continued positive impact of its partnerships with the private sector and others on creating a more inclusive economy.