[DEBATE] : FOOD FRONTIERS IN ZAMBIA: RESISTANCE AND PARTNERSHIP IN SHOPRITE’S RETAIL EMPIRE
kirkwood at web.ca
Thu Jul 24 22:02:20 BST 2008
Here are some pros and cons of Shoprite investment in Chipata, Easter province, Zambia.
The main con is that many local farmers can no longer grow and market their vegetables and fruit in Chipata, as they did before the very extensive privatizations of 1992 ff. But Shoprite did make efforts to include them as suppliers.
our thanks to Darlene Miller the author and Richard Saunders, the editor of this series "South Africa in Africa"
Two more articles are still to come.
this article is posted at www.africafiles.org/atissueezine.asp
FOOD FRONTIERS IN ZAMBIA: RESISTANCE AND PARTNERSHIP IN SHOPRITE’S RETAIL EMPIRE
by Darlene Miller, Dr Miller is a Senior Lecturer at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.)
Introduction: A new regional moment1
The end of official apartheid in South Africa in 1994 opened up a new regional moment and space, where the "definition of the possible" for Southern Africa changed and South Africa was reintegrated into the region (Simon 2001).
South Africa’s democratic transition conferred a new respectability on the region's policies and projects, catapulting South Africa from pariah to regional liberator. While President Thabo Mbeki declared his "African Renaissance" in the early 1990s, many Southern African countries deepened economic liberalisation and privatisation and released state enterprises for sale to mainly private, foreign investors (BusinessMap SA 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004; Soderbaum 2002; Daniel, Habib and Southall 2003; Miller 2005; UNCTAD World Report 2005). Restless South African retail businesses that were increasingly constrained by an oversupplied domestic market with limited profit margins were keen to explore new possibilities for accumulation in neighbouring countries and the rest of Africa.
"Restless South African retail businesses that were increasingly constrained by an oversupplied domestic market with limited profit margins were keen to explore new possibilities for accumulation in neighbouring countries and the rest of Africa."
The expansion of South African multinationals into other parts of Africa provided opportunities for new regional solidarities. In the retailing sector, for example, the appearance of large scale investments via shopping malls and food retailing chains encouraged different forms of consumption and raised a new set of positive expectations about South Africa’s regional development role. However, the process of regional re-engagement also led to many unintended and unanticipated outcomes.
Regional retail patterns
The history of cross-border retailing goes back to the frontier activities of European traders from the 19th century. For more than a century, colonial traders and wholesalers generated profits through an African expansion in tradable food and goods that both widened spheres of capitalist accumulation and intensified patterns of local exploitation.
Like other less-developed regions, retailing in Southern Africa is extremely diversified, ranging from informal street traders to small outlets with low turnover to larger shopping complexes (Findlay, Paddison and Dawson 1990). Limited purchasing power, low outreach and poor infrastructure are some of the common factors that have restricted retailing growth and produced the clustering of retail infrastructure, typically in terms of an urban-rural divide. In poor countries like Zambia, post-independence nationalisation of most foreign businesses, including retail, failed to restructure the stark geography of retail development, which had been typically racialised on white-black divides under colonial constraints. Nationalised production hampered commodity production and distribution, reducing much of the retail sector to a stuttering system of tatty commodities (Ariyo and Afeikhena 1999).
In apartheid South Africa, lucrative central business district operations were reserved for European and white South African companies that targeted white consumers. In the mid-1960s, South African retailers studied the Canadian model and saw the benefits of drawing a large number of consumers to the same place, where they became a critical shopping mass. The target areas of new shopping centres were white suburbs. White suburban shopping centres became centres for new accumulation in the 1970s, and soon profit-hunting financial institutions fuelled the rapid development of mega-shopping malls. Meanwhile retail accumulation in the black townships was stunted, and the growing underdevelopment of these areas restricted their market capacity. The poverty of black township residents and the lack of infrastructure development made these areas less attractive to retail property developers.
Successive phases of retail development in South Africa have agglomerated resources, infrastructure, technical know-how and capital for reinvestment within powerful corporate entities. Further consolidation of the industry over the past few years – for example, Shoprite’s acquisition of OK – has narrowed competition to three large players: Shoprite, Pick 'n Pay and Spar (part of Tiger Foods). This narrowing of competition has been a key factor pushing retailers into the region.
"About four times more is exported from South Africa to other parts of the continent than is imported... (This) surge of South African capital into Africa was an unanticipated outcome of a democratic South Africa."
Since democratic elections in 1994, the economic expansion of South African retailing and wholesale multinationals into Africa has increased significantly. About four times more is exported from South Africa to other parts of the continent than is imported. South African investment has increased from R9bn to R30bn between 1997 and 2002. While many observers expected stronger economic links between South Africa and Africa as one consequence of democratic transition, the surge of South African capital into Africa was an unanticipated outcome of a democratic South Africa.
In the last decade, new shopping malls have been opened in at least 15 African cities where none previously existed. While shopping malls and department stores are not a new phenomenon in Africa, the new shopping centres have extended the reach of such malls in the continent. In the midst of Africa’s economic and social decline, the shopping mall materialises with all the glitz of a Manhattan mall - marble-tiled entrances, bright neon lights, wide aisles and thousands of new commodities from which to choose. These malls follow the contours of uneven regional development, creating sites of "lumpy capitalism" where dynamism and change co-exist with stagnation (Cooper, 2000).
In the investment-starved countries of the region, the significance of new capital is enormous in social terms. New ventures often represent the only sites of formal sector job opportunities and careers, albeit limited, against the background of persistent formal sector employment decline. For consumers, new "bricks and mortar" retail investments represent for many a substantial transformation, bringing in a consumer-friendly environment and expanded consumer choices. Evidence suggests that comparatively small investments are having a disproportionately qualitative impact.
South African companies have a high level of social visibility, particularly in the retail and services sectors, and contribute to changing consumption patterns and social imagination – even for those who are unable to afford newly available products.
"In the investment-starved countries of the region... South African companies have a high level of social visibility, particularly in the retail and services sectors, and contribute to changing consumption patterns and social imagination – even for those who are unable to afford newly available products."
Shoprite in Africa
The Shoprite company grew from a small chain of supermarkets in the Cape area of South Africa in the 1960s. Shoprite’s philosophy was to operate a chain of no-frills supermarkets where customers could pay the lowest prices for their basic food and household requirements. The company expanded rapidly. More recently, however, Shoprite found itself losing market share to large competitors like Pick 'n Pay and Spar. With a strategy of supplying a customer base in the broad middle to lower end of the market and with previous presence on the ground in Southern Africa through an associated retail clothing chain, Shoprite was in an excellent position to expand into the wider African market. Armed with surplus capital, Shoprite joined several other large South African retailers – including Game, Steers, Debonairs, Engen, ProFurn, the J.D. Group and Wimpy – and shifted its investment focus into the region. In 1999 alone, R70 million was earmarked for retail investment in Africa, reaching as far as Egypt. (www.shoprite.co.za).
The Shoprite group of companies is now Africa’s largest food retailer, operating 827 outlets in 17 countries across the continent, the Indian Ocean islands and southern Asia, with a reported turnover of R16, 621 billion for the 26 weeks ended December 2005. Shoprite has stores in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe in Southern Africa. In East Africa it has stores in Tanzania and Uganda, in North Africa in Egypt and in West Africa in Ghana. It has also opened a store in Mumbai, India, its first foreign operation beyond Africa.
Shoprite models its cross-border investments on its shopping centre developments in South Africa, featuring a Shoprite supermarket as the anchor store. These shopping malls change local consumption and urban environments dramatically. Locally-owned internet stores and music outlets often make up part of this cluster. In a number of cases, the Shoprite Group establishes partnerships with a local group.
The expanding African market is absorbing surplus capital in South Africa, surplus labour in the host countries, and commodity surpluses from South Africa, expanding the manufacture of goods inside South Africa. South African companies are benefiting from regional economies of scale, rather than just national economies. Regional distribution chains centralised in South Africa also expand the number of outlets supplied by South Africa. This marks a crucial step in South Africa’s global expansion. But at what cost – and for whom?
Shoprite’s Zambia shopping spree
Shoprite’s expansion plan into Zambia started in 1995 with the purchase of six buildings in a privatization deal.2 By 1996, a full chain of state-owned retail stores were under Shoprite control. The first refurbished Shoprite retail store opened in Cairo Road, Lusaka. A further two stores opened later that year in Ndola and Kitwe. Then, in a short time, four stores were opened in Kabwe, Chingola, Mufulira and Livingstone and between 1997 and 1999 a further six stores opened.
Shoprite Zambia currently operates 18 retail supermarkets (trading as "Africa Supermarkets") together with seven Hungry Lion outlets, Shoprite’s fast food initiative. Freshmark, the company’s distributor of fresh fruit and vegetables, also operates depots in Lusaka and Kitwe. With 39 percent of the domestic retail market (Zambia Investment Centre), it is the largest retailer in the Zambian market, ahead of other South African retailers such as Ackermans, Smart Centre and Kafko, Pep Stores and Africa Retail Properties.
The Manda Hill Complex in Lusaka is Shoprite’s centrepiece Zambian investment. The mall cost US$20m and covers 22 260 sq m, of which more than 20 percent is taken up by the Shoprite store. Eighty percent of the complex’s financing came through Shoprite, in tandem with a 20 percent Zambian junior partner, leveraged on anchor store installations by Shoprite and South Africa-based Game (a general merchandising retail multinational). In total the complex hosts 56 stores, most of them Zambian-owned and managed.
The impact of Shoprite in Zambia has been as diverse as the various urban and rural settings in which it is situated. A highly ambiguous set of responses from local consumers, workers and business-people has emerged. Many consumers have welcomed the availability of a greater variety of higher quality goods, as well as the presence of more modern and efficient shopping facilities. Local informal market retailers and rural traders have drawn heavily on Shoprite as a wholesale supplier, and at least one Lusaka store has been converted mostly into a wholesale operation in response. At the same time, much of the product line in Shoprite stores is beyond the purchasing power of the urban poor, and informal sector producers have often experienced displacement in local markets for basic foodstuffs.
"The impact of Shoprite in Zambia has been as diverse as the various urban and rural settings in which it is situated. A highly ambiguous set of responses from local consumers, workers and business-people has emerged."
The potential for rising tension and hostility by consumers and producers has necessitated sensitivity by Shoprite Zambia managers to local needs and interests. Many have seen mounting pressures on Shoprite as being congruent with the company’s own official development strategy, which recognises the need for engagement with local suppliers and communities. As Shoprite’s Mission Statement proclaims:
Management’s goal is to provide all communities in Africa with food and household items in a first-world shopping environment, at the lowest prices. At the same time the Group, inextricably linked to Africa, contributes to the nurturing of stable economies and the social upliftment of its people.
Shoprite’s policy is to establish and support local supply chains. The commercial rationale is that this helps stimulate the local economy and improve Shoprite’s ability to meet specific local demands. Local supply can also reduce the in-store cost price, eliminating additional overheads such as transport, tariff and exchange-related costs. At the same time, the company’s policies emphasise the importance of supporting broad-based local economic empowerment. In practice, however, the highly centralised form of sourcing and distribution within the chain, along with weaknesses on the part of local producers in Zambia, have undermined the "fit" between foreign retailer and local suppliers.
Shoprite Zambia’s distribution is centrally organised from a mammoth 200,000 sq metre supply operation in Brackenfell, outside Cape Town. Individual outlets in Zambia are directly supplied through a system which includes web-based ordering over its intranet and the shipment of containers to specific stores. The company has eschewed the development of a trans-shipping warehouse in Lusaka in order to avoid high fuel and handling costs. Marketing manuals, human resources information, catalogues for the purchasing and marketing of goods, training schedules, internal job openings, etc., are distributed on the intranet. Stock-taking, ordering and buying are highly computerised.
The centralised form of sourcing directly affects the regional supply chain. In Zambia, in 2001, Shoprite estimated that about 65 percent of its products originated in South Africa, with some perishable items coming from Zimbabwe. In contrast, Zambian sourcing of inputs was constrained by these goods’ perceived lower quality and quantity, and the unpredictability of local supply chains. Packaging standards were also a problem for local suppliers. Local producers often used packages that were insufficiently durable, and they had low capacity to meet the Shoprite’s weighting, quality and bar-coding needs.
Case study: resistance and partnership in Chipata
In 1998, an academic at the University of Zambia sent students from the Department of Philosophy and Applied Business Ethics to conduct research in the rural town of Chipata, adjacent to Malawi and Mozambique in Zambia’s Eastern Province. Their mission was to investigate poverty among local villagers. When students interviewed farmers, they picked up on bitter complaints about Shoprite from local farmers. These farmers warned that they would burn down the company that had robbed them of their livelihoods. Shoprite had stolen their market, they alleged. Vegetables that they had regularly sold at the local town market were now being supplied from South Africa at the local Shoprite supermarket, opened in 1998. Because the Shoprite supermarket had a better distribution system and a nicer store, the farmers could not compete with this multinational. Previous sources of cash income through the sale of vegetables at the market were now disrupted and, as a result, villagers couldn’t pay for the things they needed. Their only solution was to threaten to obliterate this new supermarket that was redirecting resources away from the local farming community.
In a pre-emptive move, however, a collaborative initiative was set up in which the villagers would supply Shoprite with five agreed-upon vegetables: cabbage, green beans, onions, tomatoes and lettuce. This initiative took place under an arrangement called the Luangeni Partnership Forum. The threat of direct action was thus redirected into a joint economic initiative with Shoprite.
There are eight administrative districts in the Eastern Province of Zambia. Chipata is the largest with a population of 367 539. It is 567 km from Lusaka. Access to finance is expensive and the province has a generally poor business environment. While there are few commercial farms, smallholder farmers have generated significant agribusiness, including tobacco and cotton. Estimates for annual farm incomes from the sale of cotton are more than US$15m. It is also estimated that 50 to 60 percent of Zambia’s cotton and tobacco exports come from Eastern Province. Tourism (four national parks) and gemstone mining are the other two important sectors in the province’s economy. One of the country’s largest transporters, Sable Transport Ltd., is also based in Eastern Province.
The Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EPCCI) argues that goods imported from Lusaka or other countries could be produced locally. The institutional vacuum left after liberalisation also left no market infrastructure. Many intermediary functions that could aggregate and organize supplies and improve prices and productivity for producers have thus been reduced through the effects of liberalisation. Branding, promotion and certification would allow for profitable marketing of a range of agricultural products in the province, contends the proposed business plan of the EPCCI (Webber et al, 2003: p10). Key development in the province, however, would need to be addressed, namely, road infrastructure, power supply, irrigation infrastructure and communications services. So far Zamtel and Celtel have launched cellular phone services in Chipata, ZESCO has started erection of poles for more electricity supply lines, two dams have been rehabilitated and the government has released funds for repair to certain sections of the Great East Road.
The Luangeni Partnership Forum
The Luangeni Partnership Forum was formed to act as a broker between the village farmers and Shoprite. The steering committee for the Forum included two non-governmental organisations (Society for Family Health and World Vision), the Department of Agriculture and local farmers.
Initially, Shoprite management aimed to provide villagers with a local market for their produce. It had a spare venue for marketing fresh produce next to the store. Villagers were given access to this venue on Fridays and Saturdays. However, local farmers were unhappy with the situation and wanted a better link to the company. It was suggested that a relationship between Freshmark and local farmers might be the answer. Support was then given to local farmers in the form of farming methods and the provision of seeds and fertilizers. Although improvements occurred, there were still several hurdles to overcome:
Shoprite introduced scanning in Chipata in 2004. Scanning is centralised with fixed prices. Farmer’s prices change, however, and when computers register this variance it creates administrative problems.
Farmers were unable to compete with the prices and packaging of Shoprite.
Farmers were unhappy with an arrangement where all the risk is put onto them for poor quality produce and produce that is returned when it is not sold.
Local managers indicated that they continued to train villagers by explaining to them what the company’s requirements were. They also made provisions for the cleaning, processing and packaging of produce. A workshop between the key stakeholders was also attempted to address the issue of quality produce.
"Local managers indicated that they continued to train villagers by explaining to them what the company’s requirements were... Despite some positive results, the Luangeni Partnership Forum was characterised by conflict and power struggles..."
Despite some positive results, the Luangeni Partnership Forum was characterised by conflict and power struggles and showed some of the typical problems of NGO development initiatives. These include leadership problems and lack of sustainability so that when the funds are removed the initiatives struggle to survive.
Over time, half of the initial 92 farmers in the cooperative dropped out because of a lack of resources. In a follow-up research visit in January 2007, the numbers in the cooperative had grown again to 60 active members and 90 members altogether. The villagers expressed a desire that the Partnership Forum be resuscitated with the key problems identified earlier being addressed.
While the Luangeni Partnership Forum appeared a promising initiative for social dialogue, the lack of political support by key institutional actors such as the government resulted in its struggling for survival. The company’s immediate interests took precedence over the long-term goal of community sustainability. No additional resources are being given to make sure this initiative is sustainable.
Local informants including the manager and the agricultural extension officer credited the students and the academics with this initiative; however, senior Shoprite management claimed it as their own. This rival claim for ownership of the Partnership Forum is indicative of the importance to Shoprite of demonstrating a commitment to fostering the development of local suppliers. Although a stalemate was reached, due in part to incompatibilities between the highly organised and efficient culture of multinationals and the more time-consuming methods of communication amongst local villagers, the initiative is a good example of the potential for a system of free trade labels. It demonstrates some of the dynamics and challenges encountered by the company and local communities in building partnerships.
While Shoprite's management in Zambia emphasises the need for efficiency at the level of retailing, the company’s policy statement emphasises the importance of supporting broad-based local economic empowerment. If such support only benefits organised and urban black elites and does not assist the development of local farmers, then the company’s policy objectives are not being attained in relation to less developed communities.
Strong South African multinationals such as Shoprite need to make a political and practical commitment to local farmers to assist them with effective supply of goods to the company. This assistance needs to come from both national and head office levels of Shoprite.
Resources have to be designated for training and development of local communities to improve the efficiency of production amongst the villagers. Local farmers, for example, need to be accommodated in Shoprite’s inventory system and local managers trained in this aspect. While Shoprite demonstrates in some instances (such as the Luangeni Partnership Forum) that the company can respond to local initiatives, rhetorical support for local suppliers needs to go together with the necessary resources. Good communication mechanisms need to be encouraged in building relationships with local communities. This may include the involvement of government and non-governmental organizations to restore support for local farmers removed by neo-liberal economic restructuring.
The new regional imaginaries that emerge out of the new shopping malls introduce new possibilities and contradictions. Growing regional contradictions are evident in the disputes between the multinational South African retail company, Shoprite, and its foreign workplaces (Miller, 2005). If the relations between South African companies, on the one hand, and host country workers or consumers, on the other hand, are fractious, this will undermine South Africa’s proclaimed leadership role in post-Apartheid Southern Africa.
"Charges of ‘Yankees of Africa’ and South African ‘sub-imperialism’ point to an unanticipated fault-line of political struggle in Southern Africa – a new tension between democratic South Africa and the countries and working classes who were to benefit from this political unity at the regional level."
Charges of "Yankees of Africa" and South African "sub-imperialism" point to an unanticipated fault-line of political struggle in Southern Africa – a new tension between democratic South Africa and the countries and working classes who were to benefit from this political unity at the regional level. A new imprint has been left on the continent: one that potentially reproduces the global relations of Empire at the regional level. If South Africa is perceived by other Southern African countries as the primary beneficiary of post-apartheid regional economic development, with deepened regional inequality as the outcome of South Africa’s expansion, new regional resistance become both possible and likely. New cases of local resistance, such as that in Chipata, point to new regional claims in the demands of local communities, where South Africa becomes the focal point for new regional demands.
1. This is a shortened version of an article that will appear in a forthcoming issue of Labour, Capital and Society.
2. The Zambian government established a privatisation agency to oversee the sale of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The Zambia Privatisation Agency (ZPA) was established under the Privatisation Act of 1992. The ZPA carried out the privatisation of dairy boards, parks, milling factories, sawmill assets, hotels and wholesalers. By the end of 2003, 258 out of 282 parastatals had been privatised. As part of this privatisation process, the national state wholesale stores were sold off in a deal with South Africa’s Shoprite Holdings in 1996.
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