Three South African photographers illustrate the personal and professional journeys of three entrepreneurs living and working in Cape Town’s historically disadvantaged areas, formerly known as 'townships'. The photographs document how the entrepreneurs have overcome persistent inequalities to realise their passions, sustain themselves and their families, and ultimately bring change in their communities.

According to a recent report by the World Bank, South Africa is the most unequal in the world. Despite significant reduction in poverty since the onset of democracy in 1994, inequality has remained high and manifests itself in wage disparities, uneven access to public services, geographical segregation, and rising youth unemployment.  Black South Africans – and especially women –  are still the group most disproportionately affected by inequality.

Given this reality, residents of historically marginalised areas or ‘townships’ have come up with their own solutions to issues such as lack of basic services, employment opportunities, and recreational spaces. Over the last few years, social entrepreneurs have launched fintech businesses, tourism business, extracurricular activities for children, and arts and music academies, to mention a few. 

AFD has partnered with Igaleo, an organisation working to expand economic opportunities for disadvantaged South African communities, to fulfil its mandate of reducing inequalities and creating opportunities for all in the country. Igalelo runs a 12-month incubation programme that provides aspiring entrepreneurs from disadvantaged backgrounds with business training and skills development. The ultimate goal is for the entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into sustainable businesses that will have long-term positive social and environmental impact in their communities.  


“Many of our entrepreneurs decide to set up their own business out of need more than choice, so they might not necessarily have the right set of skills to make it work. With our programme, we equip entrepreneurs with the skills to grow, market and sell their product”.


Mathieu Planchard, Head of Igalelo.

South Africa
South Africa
With Bulelani, today’s readers can be tomorrow’s leaders
Philippi and Nyanga in south-east Cape Town have a combined population of 270,000 people living in informal dwellings made of wood, cardboard and metal sheets, but also in more formal houses made of brick and mortar. Despite lack of access to basic services such as water and sanitation, these townships are teeming with social entrepreneurs working to bring change in their communities.

Bulelani Futshane, 33, is one of such change makers. Having grown up in Philippi, he is very familiar with the challenges people in his community, and especially young people, face in their day to day life. In 2012, he founded Township Roots to reduce the number of school drop-outs, develop resilient community leaders and increase the chances of success among young students who attend low resourced schools within Philippi and Nyanga.

“I see myself as a community mobilizer, an instigator of change. Literacy can help elevate the community like it helped me. Growing up, the only form of literacy that was there to inspire my imagination was storytelling”, Bulelani says.

Every Saturday, Bulelani runs a literacy workshop at a school in Phlippi. His method of teaching is very hands on and includes singing, dancing, acting, which the children love.. Siphumeze Genu, 13, says that “I look forward to Saturday mornings because I know the class with Township Roots will be fun. I have built my confidence with the help of Bulelani’s mentorship.”

Bulelani’s two daugthers, Owam Azania, 9, and Linomtha, 7, live with his elderly mother. Despite being becoming a father at a young age, he has always made sure that he is present in his daughters’ lives. “In this country, the majority of fathers are absent in their children's lives, so this gives me a good reason to want to be there for my daughters. I never miss out on anything, I follow all their activities, I pick them up from school and always spend time chatting to them in the evenings”, Bulelani says.

Bulenani believes that more people are needed to take action to bring about change in their communities. “I believe that the power to change our communities lies within. We need more of us to be the founders and directors of organizations and companies that are active in our community”, Bulelani says.

The coaching he received from Igalelo equipped him with the skills necessary to build his business. “Igalelo helped us with the not-so-romantic side of building a business, such as accounting and marketing. They helped us improve our administration and networking skills, they helped us polish our 'elevator pitch'. Igalelo is uplifting young social entrepreneurs so that their business can be sustainable”, Bulelani says.

“I'm not here to sell poverty. I'm here to show the resilience of my people. I'm not ashamed to show that our people are able to survive in poverty, and that they're not only able to survive, but they are blossoming”, Bulelani concludes.
South Africa
Sibusiso brings the uniting power of music to Philippi
Better known by his close friends as Mc Sbu, Sibusiso Nyamakazi, 27, is a writer, musician, activist and businessman involved in several projects aimed at uplifting the community in and around Philippi, a "township" of 200,000 people in south-east Cape Town. His life mission is to bridge the inequality gap, so starkly visible in Cape Town’s townships, through the uniting power of music.

In 2015, Sibusiso founded Philippi Music Project to provide aspiring musicians with a recording studio at affordable prices. It also mentors and introduces them to the music industry through workshops, access to live gigs, in-house and sound engineering services, and free masterclasses.

Sibusiso is a ‘connector’. He believes that music has a unique power to attract, develop and enhance creativity in local communities, and can be used to connect people and harness the talents and develop creativity of young people living in underprivilideged areas.

“People come to the townships [of South Africa] thinking they’ve got us all figured out. They offer us engineering, medicine and IT bursaries. They say we need skills that are in demand, we need skills to develop. But there are many of us who want to do creative things like music. There’s little focus on who we are and too much focus on what we need to become a first world country”, Sibusiso says.

As a “connector”, Sibusiso is constantly on his feet and on the move, while incoming calls, messages and emails keep him on his toes. Thanks to Igalelo’s business training and skills development program, Sibusiso was able to expand his network beyond South Africa and into Europe. Igalelo connects the beneficiaries of its program to its network of local and international partners, enabling them to access new markets or increase their shares in existing markets.

Sibusiso has great plans for the future of his business. “I’m doing what I love and what I’ve always wanted to do. In the next few years, I would like to expand my business abroad, close that gap between us and the world through music. I plan to visit as many places as possible, bring people to reflect on the impacts that projects like Philippi Music Project can make”, Sibusiso says.

“Music has that ability to affect us, to take us to another galaxy, another world where we are equal, we are one”, Sibusiso says.
South Africa
Renshia and her veggies-in-a-box
Renshia Manuel is a single mother of 4 children living in Hanover Park, a "township" of 34,000 people south-east Cape Town. She came up with the idea of growing vegetables in boxes in 2016, after being unemployed for two years and struggling to support her family. The dire situation in which she found herself prompted her to come up with the idea to grow vegetables in her backyard as an additional food source.

Her luck turned around when she entered a local competition with her vegetables-in-a-box idea and won first prize. She used the prize money to formalize and launch her business with the name “GrowBox”.

GrowBox aims to take basic food nutrition to the people who need it most, while fostering the development of sustainable and eco-friendly practices. Hanover Park is characterised by rows of semi-detached houses with no green spaces, so GrowBox is the perfect solution, as it allows anyone to grow vegetables in small, confined spaces.

Renshia also benefited from Igaelo’s 12 month incubation programme through which she turned GrowBox into a sustainable business. “Igalelo helped me turn GrowBox from an idea into a business. They taught me how to do my own administration, accounting and how to present my business to potential clients and funders. They took us to networking events and introduced us to a lot of people”, Renshia says.

As her business grew, Renshia had to face the daily insecurity of living in a historically disadvantaged area of Cape Town plagued by gang violence and crime. However, she is keen to challenge the pervasive stereotype of South African "townships" as unliveable and crime ridden, and her business is a testament to that. “I would like to show people that there is more to Hanover Park than the gang violence everybody hears about. There are good people and good initiatives coming out of this place. If we uplift each other and empower each other, there’s a lot of good that can come out of it and then people will look beyond the violence and the gangs”.

Proud of how far she has come, Renshia believes that determination and hard work can help people like her overcome existing inequalities. “When I started my business, people kept telling me to get a job. My only qualification is matric (high school diploma), so I was going to start at the bottom and earn the minimum salary. But I didn't want to do that. I know that with hard work and dedication I will achieve my goals, so I will put in the necessary effort. I want my children to see the effort I put in my work, so they will put the same effort in whatever they're doing”, Renshia says.
South Africa
Less inequality, more social cohesion

South Africans remain sharply divided along racial and socioeconomic lines. These challenges exacerbate existing social problems and in the long run, might impact economic development and sustainable democracy in the country. 

In 2015 AFD partnered with the University of Cape Town’s Poverty and Inequality Initiative (UCT – PII) and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) to conduct a study exploring the relationship between social cohesion and economic inequality in South Africa, and the institutional changes needed to promote social cohesion and reduce inequality. 

The study found that higher levels of income and employment are associated with higher social cohesion, and that, conversely, poverty, unemployment and service delivery protests are linked to less social cohesion. Although much more can be said about this comprehensive study, an important implication is that the high levels of inequality and the perception that inequality has not improved since the dawn of democracy in 1994 are the key barriers to social cohesion in South Africa. 

The next steps of this ambitious collaborative research project is the formulation of a social cohesion index, which will be used in the formulation of policies that can be expected to materially improves social cohesion and achieve inclusive development . The South Africa Social Cohesion Index, in partnership with StatsSA is expected to be launched in March 2019.