/ 9 January 2008

Soweto retailers report bustling festive season

The hallways were teeming with shoppers — and perhaps those just wanting to be seen — in Soweto’s spanking new Maponya Mall during December.

According to mall management, approximately 45 000 people visited the R650-million shopping centre daily. Restaurants such as News Café and Primi Bazala drew in many upmarket young Sowetans, altogether hosting up to 700 people at a time.

Monalisa Sam, mall manager, told the Mail & Guardian Online that these restaurants attracted more customers than anticipated. “Primi Bazala, which opened in December 2007, hosted as many as 400 people on busy days, exceeding their capacity of 250 people. They also hosted customers until as late as midnight on the big festive days,” she said.

Sam added that the festive-season hype took hold of Maponya Mall sooner than expected. “We started enjoying large volumes of visitors immediately after the school holidays. This being our first festive season, we certainly exceeded our expectations where volumes and shopping patterns are concerned.”

Jabulani Mall, another popular shopping centre in Soweto — which is home to more than 800 000 people — saw more than a million shoppers flooding in during the festive season. Its management said it did not lose any customers to the newer Maponya Mall as the “market is big enough”.

Jabulani centre manager David Pooe could not yet reveal what effect the opening of Maponya Mall had on festive-season profits. “Our profits and losses are calculated on an annual basis, but I must say that it doesn’t look like we suffered at all,” he said.

According to Maponya Mall’s Sam, Soweto’s three other malls had a positive impact on overall shopping trends. “Our traffic and sales volumes are, in fact, boosted by customers who embark on ‘mall hopping’ and who will visit the mall for a larger choice and variety,” she said.

In October, not long before the festive season, Soweto’s first luxury hotel — a R23,4-million Holiday Inn — opened its doors in Kliptown. The inn had an impressive occupancy rate of 50% on New Year’s Eve.

Lindiwe Sangweni-Sidwe, CEO of Zatic Hotels and Resorts, told the M&G Online that many of the hotel’s visitors in December were “curious Sowetans”.

“We actually spent November planning for 2008, so we didn’t have anything extraordinary planned for the festive season. We, however, found that a lot of the visitors during that time were from around this township,” she said, adding that the support was appreciated.

“We anticipate a lot of corporate visits in the year, so it’s nice to see locals relaxing in the comfort of their own township, and we hope to see more of that in the festive seasons to come,” she said.

Iraj Abedian, an economist for Efficient Group, said that festive-season spending patterns for people living in Soweto have changed over the years.

“Before the development of malls in Soweto, people had to go to malls like Eastgate or Westgate to do their shopping and that had a transport expense factor,” he said. “Now they don’t have to put money aside for transport, so there is a switching effect because the money that would have been used for transport is now used for other things.”

Abedian said that most money was spent on clothes this past festive season. “The hike in interest rates definitely reduced buying power for many people, so there was less engagement in long-term purchases of things like furniture … but people still spent a lot of money on food and clothes,” he said.