How unemployed Sonto Sithole used R350 social relief grant to start a scone business

Catrina P. Smith
Sonto sells scones to commuters and construction employees.

In May, the government introduced a special Covid-19 social relief grant of R350 a month for unemployed citizens for a period of six months. Eligible applicants were those who did not receive any other form of social grant or UIF payment.

On 15 October 2020, the president announced that the social relief grant would be extended for another three months to January 2021. In addition, in his medium-term budget policy statement, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced that R6.8m would be redirected from the public employment programme allocation to the social relief grant fund.

The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) says an average of 5.26 million people have received a special social relief grant thus far. Some 13.81 million have received top-up grants and 146,936 food parcels have been delivered.

On average, one third of the social relief grant applications are rejected every month. By the end of August, 0.92 million of the 2.95 million rejections had been approved and the beneficiaries had received the grants. This is according to the Auditor General Second special report on financial management of government’s Covid-19 initiatives.

Grant applications are rejected for various reasons, including: if the applicant has an alternative income source (24%), any existing Sassa grants (23%), identity verification failures (16%), if they are IRP 5 registered (20%), national student financial aid scheme registered (5%), and Unemployment Insurance Fund registered (8%).

Read also: GG Alcock: WTF SA govt? Social grant queues highlight Covid-19 lockdown farce

Starting a business with R350

Sonto Sithole has been fortunate enough to receive the monthly R350 grant, and has put the money to good use by baking and selling scones.

A resident of Dawn Park in Boksburg, Gauteng, Sithole has been unemployed for nearly four years. Previously, she worked as a senior manager at a national retail chain, but she has been struggling to find a job since.

When she applied for the social relief grant and got approved, she was overjoyed. She decided to use the money to start a small business selling fresh scones.

She explains that unlike most people, she has been lucky to have a working husband. However, as a mother of three children, Sithole needed to do something that would bring in an extra income.

“Covid-19 has been hard for us as a family even though my husband works in sales. The slowing economic growth isn’t making it easy, hence why I took the initiative to start small with what I had.”

Read also: ‘Invisible’ township economies yield diamonds under lockdown pressure

After doing research on where best to sell her fresh scones, Sithole nervously started selling on 31 August 2020. “I had seen the potential of this business, especially at taxi ranks, bus terminals, train stations and construction sites,” she says.

Sithole’s day begins at the crack of dawn, around 3.30am. Once the scones have been baked, she heads to a nearby construction site and sells there until her stock is finished.

She does most of her selling in the morning, giving her time during the day to shop for ingredients. However, on weekends, she takes her freshly-baked scones and knocks on doors in her neighbourhood.

Sonto Sithole

“I have been in business for three months, and I’m starting to feel a lot more confident, with a growing clientele base,” she explains.

Sithole says the majority of her clients are commuters and construction workers, with several orders coming in as well.

Nurturing a small business

As people became more familiar with her business and orders picked up, Sithole realised she needed help selling. In October, she employed two people to help her cover different areas.

Running her own business has meant that Sithole has had to bake, stock take, shop, and sell her product, all on her own. Having two people assisting her means she finally has the time to think of ways to grow her business.

“In the beginning, the challenge was not selling much of the produce, especially on quiet weeks. There’ve been times when we don’t reach our daily targets, and that’s tough.”

Sithole has since added cold drinks and sweets to her product mix.

For someone sitting at home and wondering what to do with R350, Sithole’s advice is to start small. “Eventually, you will get where you want to be. It’s not easy, but do something. Don’t waste your time like me, waiting to be employed. Take a stand and make a move; this is your life. It’s the smallest steps that count.”

The challenge is not meeting sales targets on quiet days.

Sithole says her business may not be where she wants it to be yet, but things are far better than she could have imagined. It took the Covid-19 pandemic to force her out of her comfort zone, to a place where she could realise her talents and potential.

“After suffering from depression and feeling hopeless, now I’ve got something to look forward to which is my business and my customers.” Sithole says every day is a learning opportunity and the challenges keep her going strong.

“The R350 grant really helped me a lot – financially – but it also changed my mentality. I know we all need food and stuff but what happens when the grant stops? I wanted to create longevity with this grant, and I am glad I started,” she says.

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