In much of rural South Africa, since 2011, small and medium size business ownership went from being run by locals, to wholly being run by new immigrants, who come predominantly from the Asian continent. General dealers, small shops, liquor outlets and beauty salon businesses that were once owned by the locals are now run by the newly-arrived capitalist class. The members of the former business class, have become new landlords leasing out the premises within which they once ruled supreme; now relying on fixed income from the incumbent movers and shakers.
In his journal published in 2010, Dirk Kornet argues that trading diasporas have a generally enhanced innovative capacity vis-à-vis local entrepreneurs, regardless of the national culture in which they are embedded. His assertion guides us closer to understanding the basic reasons as to why the locals have been outwitted on a field they once dominated without external competition. Joseph Schumpeter’s distinction between “innovation” and “invention” is crucial to our understanding of cultures of innovation, as it focuses on the dissemination and implementation of inventions; processes that are not just driven by the strong will of a charismatic individual entrepreneur, but also stimulated by the economic, political and cultural institutional framework of a given society. In order to become effective and sustainable, trading diasporas need an ideology – a symbolic blueprint of some sort for their enterprises. As Abner Cohen correctly points out in his important publication on the cultural strategies of trading diasporas published in 1971, this ideology is most often based on the creation of myths of belonging, including rules regarding rewards, sanctions, the fostering of solidarity, and meticulous coordination. All this, has developed through “a long process of trial and error, of cultural innovations and of mediation and symbolic formulation”, writes Abner.
These new business cabals have created their own logistics, sourcing, and money moving networks; membership of which revolves around tight family, religious, and diasporadic bonds — really an arrangement of positions deja prises, as Gaetano Mosca in his book, The Ruling Class, would have it. When assessing the standard of life of the former local business owners, it is not hard to realise that almost all have experienced financial reversals; what is more startling is that the consumer has to pay additional fees in order to purchase basic services, such as electricity, and mobile communications services, such as airtime and data bundles. The new business culture is tolerated without open protestation, but beneath, animosities lay deceptively dormant.