OPINION PIECE: Construction of new mall commences

Source: Paledi Incorporated (Facebook)

Smart Partnership Enterprises (SPE) has announced it has started building a 26 000m2 retail centre to be called The Fields Mall. Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony held in Gaborone recently, the company chairperson, Sam Mpuchane said SPE is a wholly citizen-owned company registered in 1998, with the specific purpose of ensuring that major retail developments at the CBD are owned and developed by Batswana. 

The company comprises over 100 Batswana citizens from all walks of life, including business people, retirees and professionals from various fields. Mpuchane said the mall would occupy part of the nine-hectare mixed-use plot at the CBD. He said the name was inspired by the name, The Cotton Fields, which the area comprising the CBD and Phase 2 was commonly known as before. 

The project is expected to be completed by April 2022, with the opening date set for April 28 same year. It will cost P300 million (just over $26 million), all of which was raised by the shareholders. Mpuchane stated the mall would house 70 shops, with several reputable retailers and anchor tenants being Spar, Pick n Pay and Woolworths.  

Source: BOPA


YourBotswana view

When news of yet another mall being built broke on social media a fortnight ago, it was met with a sense of frustration and dismay. As it stands, within the CBD where The Fields Mall is being built, we already have Square Mart. Just over the road from the CBD, we have RailPark Mall. While the people behind the project are to be commended, the main question in our minds is; where is the sense of initiative here? They’ve done well to raise the money and we respect that it’s their prerogative to use it how they see fit. 

However, with Botswana being a developing country, there are so many innovative ideas that we can explore to effectively diversify the economy. But we rarely if ever step out of the comfort zone to think outside the box in this country, to break the mould and come up with fresh, innovative ways of making money while creating jobs. For whatever reason, we prefer to follow the masses and continue churning out the same, tired business ideas, no matter how saturated the market. You do sometimes have to wonder, do people actually do market research and conduct a SWOT analysis to test their ideas for viability. 

We sampled a handful of comments posted on Facebook to gauge how the project was received.

“Is Gaborone the only place in Botswana? How about tourism Cities??? Maun and Chobe???”

Indeed, each time a new mall pops up in Gaborone, we wonder what goes on in the minds of property developers. The comment above rightly asks why not consider other areas such as Maun and Kasane, where there are no real malls. Maun and Kasane residents often have to travel to Francistown or even Gaborone to buy various items that they can’t source locally. What’s more, there is purchasing power in those areas, especially when you consider the tourist market and safari industry. Those with deep pockets could do well to ask themselves who supplies this sector. Do they get their supplies from South Africa and elsewhere? Would it be worth meeting their demand so they ‘shop’ locally, creating jobs in those areas and helping grow the economy?

Many felt instead of building more malls, we need to produce goods to reduce our import bill, something the government has also highlighted. Botswana’s dependence on South Africa for virtually everything is unhealthy. Botswana’s high street is crammed full of South African franchises. The same, tired brands from one mall to the next. What’s worse, the same brands have a far superior offer in South Africa, leaving sloppy seconds for the Botswana. market Botswana residents buy subpar goods at a premium. But let’s face it, what other options do people have?

Ever since COVID-19 hit, we have seen Batswana stand up and produce so many amazing products. And these are average Batswana on the street with no capital. This shows that Batswana do have the potential to get the economy out of the doldrums. We just have to think beyond what’s already being done, dare to dream and believe that we too can transform our economy to compete with South Africa. I genuinely believe we can. However, years of being in South Africa’s shadow has led Batswana to put the country on a very lofty pedestal, to believe that we are inferior and have no right to ever outshine South Africa.

“We have malls everywhere. Bring in industries and factories. Shops already exist, with franchises flooding the city with the same product offer.”

“We need more production, manufacturers, industries to build the economy. Enough with malls that promote more consumerism.”

“These malls are packed with foreign franchises from which Batswana benefit peanuts. Can we focus on producing?”

Before the pandemic hit, Batswana were already struggling. As far back as 2017, luxury department store, Stuttafords (also South African) collapsed. With stagnant salaries and the high unemployment levels, the high cost of living in Botswana, the property sector being a law unto itself, robbing people and largely unregulated, many people are turning to Chinese stores that have steadily mushroomed all over Botswana. While the quality of the products offered by the Chinese stores is often questionable, it’s also all most people can afford. People are already cutting right back on spending as the priority is to keep their heads above water. 

Strictly speaking, Botswana doesn’t even have a specific and adequate minimum wage that sits above the breadline. Whenever the subject is discussed, the answers are very, very vague. 

A recent news article revealed a whopping 70% of Batswana earn less than P10,000 ($870) per month (many way below that). That’s before we even look at the informal sector, which includes the retail and security sectors that deem it fair to pay their workforce a paltry P800 – P1500 ($69 – $130) per month. So, if a huge proportion of Batswana earn below the breadline, who exactly are all these malls geared at?

“We’re building mall after mall, yet there is no purchasing power. We should be building industries to manufacture products hence empowering our very own with skills, knowledge and creating revenues for the country through exports.”

As we speak; due to COVID, most companies have been retrenching staff. That alone means purchasing power has gone down and people can’t afford to spend money at malls. Take Palapye for example, it has more malls than it needs – most office and retail spaces are vacant. It’s the same with Kgale Mews, Molapo Crossing, Riverwalk, RailPark and other parts of Gaborone. But, if you manufacture, you are likely to export and make profit. As we speak, no manufacturing company have retrenched anyone.”

In conclusion, we strongly feel those with the financial clout to set up new ventures in Botswana could do well to consider the local market, what it needs, what it can afford; to think outside the box, to shake up the market and dare to explore ideas that truly break the mould. We urge them to think about how they can reshape Botswana’s retail landscape.

Bring in different brands to the ones that already exist. Consider importing various global cuisines. Set yourselves apart and give people reasons to choose The Fields Mall over say, Airport Junction. Bring in specialised retail offers – think La Senza. Think big and shake up the cafe space – why not giant chains such as Costa, Caffé Nero, Millie’s Cookies and Starbucks and while you’re at it, heck, throw in Krispy Kreme to enhance the value chain?

If you must really, really bring in supermarkets, think beyond the tired Spar, Pick n Pay and Shoprite (even Woolworths has lost its spark!) – consider Aldi and Lidl. Go beyond the standard – instead of Clicks, consider Boots or Super Drug. Move away from the tired South African brands such as Mr Price, Truworths and Foschini – take a leap of faith and consider making Botswana’s high street more interesting by bringing in affordable brands such as Argos, Ikea, Primark, H&M, Mango, Zara, Pound Stretcher and Clas Ohlson.

Bring in new ideas that can entice our neighbours to come into Botswana for an exciting shopping experience different to their own. Think beyond basic print shops that mean local companies have to go to South Africa or even as further afield as China for specialised printing. Absorb packaging graduates to produce packaging items locally rather than importing them from China.

Not taking into account the complexities that come with importing foreign chain stores (we’re not exactly experts!), all the chains mentioned in this article are budget-friendly, mid-range brands. If you don’t know these brands, please go ahead and Google them.

Some ideas to consider beyond retail

The one area that’s seriously lacking in Botswana is entertainment. Look to the world and benchmark. Batswana often go to neighbouring South Africa for entertainment. Botswana also has a long-standing drinking culture – could it in part be attributed to the severe lack of entertainment? Think beyond entertainment that promotes the already spiralling drinking culture – family-friendly, fun spaces that encourage Batswana to spend their money on home soil rather than in South Africa.

  • Fairground attraction
  • Amusement parks
  • Amusement arcades
  • Bowling allies
  • Markets that house homegrown or uniquely African products
  • Indoor rock climbing
  • Indoor water parks – *although that could be a challenge given Botswana’s severe water shortages
  • Indoor sky diving and skiing
  • Taste of Africa – speciality food markets that could tie in with neighbouring countries that could be held at various times of the year.

Do you agree that Botswana, especially Gaborone, has too many malls? What avenue do you feel Botswana’s retail space should ideally go down? What type of entertainment would you ideally like to see offered in Botswana? Please go ahead and share your opinions.

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