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Sustaining Immigrant Entrepreneurship in South Africa: The Role of Informal Financial Associations

Department of Entrepreneurship and Business Management, Faculty of Business and Management Sciences, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town 8000, South Africa
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2017, 9(8), 1396;
Received: 8 July 2017 / Revised: 3 August 2017 / Accepted: 5 August 2017 / Published: 8 August 2017


Although immigrants have been found to be particularly likely to engage in entrepreneurial activities in their host countries, very often their ability to do so is restricted by a range of challenges, including having limited access to finances. As a consequence, proactive immigrant entrepreneurs establish informal financial associations, which are known as stokvels in South Africa, in order to compensate for the general lack of available capital for their business ventures. Accordingly, this paper has sought to ascertain the role, which stokvels play in the startups and the growth of Cameroonian-owned businesses, and also the strategies which they employ. A mixed methods approach was adopted to conduct the study and purposive sampling was employed to obtain a research sample of 123 participants to respond to the survey questionnaire and 10 to take part in one-on-one in-depth interviews. The data was analysed through the use of the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) software, which generated findings in the form of descriptive statistics. The results suggest that most emerging immigrant entrepreneurs struggle to obtain sufficient startup capital. It also emerged from the findings that stokvels played an equally significant role in providing the capital, which was necessary for the growth of their businesses. On the basis of the assumption that widening access to finance would improve both the startups and the growth of immigrant-owned businesses, the authors of this paper advocate for inclusive policy initiatives, which consider the unique characteristics of the immigrant entrepreneur. In addition, it is hoped that this paper will make a valid contribution to the discourse concerning inclusive finance and be of interest to policy makers and academics.

1. Introduction and Background

There is a growing consensus that the creation and growth of Small, Medium, and Micro-sized Enterprises (SMMEs) would inevitably result in the creation of employment, economic growth, the alleviation of poverty, and the general improvement of living conditions [1,2,3,4]. It could reasonably be suggested that this assertion would hold true, regardless of whether or not the founders of the enterprises are immigrants. Most advanced economies have benefited immensely from the contributions, which have been made by immigrant entrepreneurs [2,3,4].
Immigrant-owned businesses represent an important conduit for advancing the growth of the South African economy. They contribute towards the development of the economy by creating employment for both immigrant entrepreneurs themselves and for South African citizens, and also through the contribution, which they make through the payment of taxes [5]. Despite the increasing recognition of the value of immigrant entrepreneurship, the entrepreneurial enterprises of many immigrants continues to be confronted with a number of obstacles which hinder them from fulfilling their true potential in terms of the contributions which they stand to make to the economy of the country. Some of these factors include language barriers, discrimination, and limited financial capital to fund their economic activities [3,6].
Limited access to finance has been identified as constituting one of the most significant stumbling blocks to the success of immigrant entrepreneurship in South Africa [7]. Strict adherence to requirements for granting loans by formal financial institutions effectively excludes immigrant entrepreneurs from obtaining access to funding. A lack of proper documentation, a lack of credit history, and a general reluctance to grant credit to non-South Africans are among the factors which serve to foil the attempts of immigrant entrepreneurs in obtaining financing from formal financial institutions.
To borrow the analogy of Napoleon Bonaparte, who maintained that an army marches on its stomach, finance plays an equally crucial role in the startups and the growth of business enterprises. The prospects for businesses when there is little or no available capital are exceedingly grim. Owing to the difficulty which immigrant entrepreneurs have experienced in obtaining financial support from formal financial institutions such as commercial banks, they have been obliged to rely on stokvels as a source of obtaining financial capital for both the startups and the growth of their businesses.
The difficulties which are encountered in the raising of financial capital from formal financial institutions by immigrant entrepreneurs, in order to fund their business activities in South Africa, stems largely from the fact that the policies which are implemented by the formal financial institutions to guide the granting of loans do not favour immigrants. Among the conditions for the granting of loans are the requirements for the applicant to be in possession of a South African identification card and to provide a credit history. As it is impossible, in most cases, for immigrant entrepreneurs to fulfill all of these conditions, and because their businesses cannot function without adequate capital, they tend to resort to forming informal financial associations such as stokvels.
It has been found in a number of host countries that immigrants are more likely than the members of indigenous populations to start their own businesses [3]. This tendency may be ascribed to the obstacles which immigrants frequently encounter while attempting to find suitable employment in the formal sectors of their host countries and also to their tendency to take greater risks than members of indigenous populations, as a result of not having access to whatever forms of social security their host counties may provide to their citizens. However, immigrants often encounter a range of different adverse phenomena, in the form of language barriers, discrimination, xenophobia, and financial difficulties [7].
Limited access to capital is a significant factor which hinders the startups and growth of most Small, Medium, and Micro-sized Enterprises (SMMEs), irrespective of the countries of origin of the entrepreneurs concerned. However, a lack of adequate financial resources tend to be felt more keenly by immigrant entrepreneurs than it is by their indigenous counterparts, owing, to a large extent, to the characteristics of immigrant entrepreneurs and their enterprises, and also to a lack of familiarity with and possible discrimination against immigrant borrowers on the part of mainstream formal financial institutions. This state of affairs entails two distinct categories of disadvantages for immigrant entrepreneurs. The first precludes many immigrant entrepreneurs from achieving effective startups for their businesses. In a great many instances, even when successful startups are achieved, the achieving of significant growth becomes a further hurdle.
The second category precludes immigrants from having opportunities to optimise their socio-economic contribution to the South African economy. As a consequence, in many instances immigrants are obliged to compete with native South Africans for employment, as opposed to creating employment for them. In order to ensure the successful startups and growth of their businesses, the vast majority of immigrant entrepreneurs search for alternative means of obtaining finance, very often through relying on stokvels or njangis, as they are known in Cameroon [7]. Although it has been documented that immigrants establish stokvels in order to compensate for a lack of availability of capital, the effectiveness of stokvels in this respect has not been adequately established. The strategies which are employed by immigrant entrepreneurs in order to obtain maximal financial assistance from their stokvels have also not been sufficiently comprehensively investigated. Consequently, this study sought to ascertain the role which stokvels play in the startup and the growth of Cameroonian-owned businesses within the Cape Metropolitan Area of South Africa.

2. Literature Review

2.1. Defining Entrepreneurship

The quest for a generally acceptable definition of entrepreneurship has eluded many authors. As a consequence, individual authors tend to adopt definitions, which best serve the purposes of their writing or their research. For instance, from a process point of view, [8] see entrepreneurs as people who start or operate their own businesses. Yet from a behavioural and outcome dimension, [9] believes that entrepreneurs are people who can spot entrepreneurial opportunities and organize the resources necessary to take advantage of the opportunity in the market.
For the purposes of this paper, entrepreneurship will refer to the actions, which are entailed in the successful starting and operating of businesses. A working definition for an entrepreneur could be offered as a person who identifies a specific business opportunity and mobilises the necessary resources in order to start and run a business.

2.2. Migration and Immigrant Entrepreneurship

Although it has long been regarded as a cliché that the world has become a global village, the phenomenon of people moving from one country and settling in another is a common one. While some do so in order to benefit from the favourable economic conditions, which prevail in their adopted countries, others are forced by political and economic instabilities in their home countries. This movement from one country to another is generally known as migration.
Migration has proven to be one of the defining topics in modern history, because it has become an essential, unavoidable, and beneficial instrument of the socio-economic life of regions and countries [10]. When immigrants move into their new countries, it is seldom easy for them to gain access to the employment market. As a direct consequence, many are encouraged to engage in entrepreneurial activities in order to create gainful employment for themselves, which could give rise to the phenomenon of immigrant entrepreneurship.
Examining entrepreneurship from the perspective of immigrants, [10] explain that self-employment or entrepreneurship typically entails either buying an existing business or establishing a new one [10]. In this sense, immigrant entrepreneurship denotes entrepreneurial activities which are pursued by immigrants in a host country.
Just like entrepreneurship, the definition of immigrant entrepreneurship varies. For instance [11], describe immigrant entrepreneurship as business activities, which are conducted by immigrants in their host countries either with the assistance of social networks or through individual initiative. Given the proliferation of definitions, a summary is provided by [12] in Table 1.
Following [11], the terms ‘immigrant entrepreneurs’, ‘minority entrepreneurs’, and ‘ethnic entrepreneurs’, will be utilised used interchangeably in this study to refer to foreign entrepreneurs who carry out entrepreneurial activities in their host country. In the same vein, an ‘African immigrant entrepreneur’ will allude to someone from within the African continent who carries out business activities in a host county.
Following the demise of apartheid in 1994, post-apartheid South Africa has witnessed an unprecedented influx of immigrants, particularly from other African countries [7]. For many, the pull factors include, but are not limited to, a better quality of life, favourable climatic conditions, and the existence of business opportunities [5,8]. The influx of new entrepreneurial talent has great potential for boosting the South African economy.
Although African immigrants tend to be disadvantaged in terms of having limited access to funding from formal financial institutions, many still forge ahead to establish businesses [6]. Although most of them resort to obtaining finance from friends, members of their families, and their personal savings, in order to generate capital for the startups and the growth of their businesses, they also establish informal financial associations for this purpose [7].

2.3. Informal Financial Institutions (IFIs)

The term ‘informal financial institutions’ (IFIs) covers all organisations which offer financial services outside of the domain of the formal financial sectors of countries, and which are not governed by their regulations [13]. To [14] informal financial institutions are groups, which are formed on the basis of socially shared rules, which are usually unwritten, and which operate mainly outside of the officially sanctioned and regulated channels. As a consequence, it is almost impossible to use monetary and financial policy instruments to regulate the activities of IFIs.
The existence of informal financial institutions predates the introduction of the modern banking system by centuries, if not millennia [15]. Their main objective has always been to provide finance for entrepreneurial activities, particularly to people in poor communities. It is believed that IFIs owe their origin to people at the most fundamental levels of society and their need for appropriate funding mechanisms [16].
Each member of an IFI typically contributes a regular small sum into a common pool, in order to become the recipient of a large sum at a point which is determined by the rotation process which is employed. The rotation process provides some members with access to the pool much earlier than others. Consequently, members who benefit at an early stage are likely to regard the payment as an interest-free loan, while those who benefit later are likely to regard the fund as a means of accumulating savings [17].
As stokvels are associated mainly with poor segments of society, it may be concluded that they provide the means for poor people to generate their own funding. Ugwuanyi [18] explains that stokvels date back to before the colonisation of Africa and that they are interwoven with the African culture, which is as old as Africa itself.
Stokvels are broadly divided into three main classes, namely:
  • Proprietary informal financial groups, such as millers of grain, money lenders, smallholder farmers’ schemes, traders’ groups, self-help groups, and other business groupings;
  • Staff and social welfare schemes, such as those which are run by employers, friends, relatives, and neighbours;
  • Mutual aid groups, such as rotating savings and credit associations (ROCSAs) and accumulating savings and credit associations (ASCRAs).
ROSCAs are the most commonly used types of stokvels throughout the world and they are given different names by various different communities. In Nigeria, a stokvel is known as an isusu, in Ghana as a susu, in Japan as a Ko, and in Cameroon they are referred to as njangis or tontines.
Gugerty [19] defines ROSCAs as associations whose members routinely, either daily, weekly, or monthly, contribute a fixed amount which is given to members in turn, according to a system such as a lottery, bidding or any other which the group may elect to use. This fixed contribution is deemed by the members to provide the means for receiving a large sum at a particular point during the life cycle of the group [17].

Stokvels as a Means for Providing Finance to Immigrant-Owned Businesses

It requires more than merely a good idea in order to start a business successfully and achieve steady growth. Various different forms of capital, including knowledge and skills, are needed for a business to be successful [7]. Financial institutions in the formal sector in South Africa tend to regard small businesses which are owned by immigrants as not being sufficiently creditworthy to be granted loans to facilitate their growth [20]. It is partly for this reason that the immigrant community in South Africa tends to attach great importance to stokvels as the most effective means of obtaining capital for their business initiatives.
In a discussion of the significance of stokvels for immigrant owners of businesses in South Africa, [7] observes that they help to mobilise savings through the regular contributions of their members, which are, in turn, used as working capital to expand their businesses.
As [21] explains, although immigrant entrepreneurs need access to credit and savings for both business and personal purposes, many financial institutions in the formal sectors of their host countries are not always able to provide the necessary assistance. As it has been pointed out, their reluctance to do so usually stems from deeming them to be insufficiently creditworthy, which, in turn, results in the assessment that any credit which is advanced to them is particularly likely to result in bad debts. As immigrant entrepreneurs are usually unable to gain access to credit from the formal financial sector, they tend to turn to alternative means of funding their business initiatives, such as stokvels.

2.4. The Contributions Made by Immigrant Entrepreneurs to the Host Country

Although it is widely acknowledged that immigrants have a great potential to contribute positively to the socio-economic development of their host countries [22], their ability to do so is seldom maximised, owing to discriminatory policies and structural deficiencies. This assessment notwithstanding, it can be asserted that immigrant-owned businesses make the following contributions to the economies of their host nations [23]:
  • they contribute to economic growth;
  • they change the urban landscape;
  • they revitalise abandoned city districts and local markets;
  • They supply new products and services at competitive prices and, in some cases, even create new markets, such as ethnic tourism;
  • they create employment for themselves and for others;
  • they contribute to combating social exclusion and improving living standards of disadvantaged groups in their host societies; and
  • they have the potential to provide an indirect means of avoiding the multitude of difficulties which are to be encountered while attempting to enter labour markets, such as unemployment, language difficulties, discrimination, and problems concerning the recognition of qualifications.
The foregoing points are the different ways in which immigrants that are involved in entrepreneurial activities can contribute to the development of their host countries.

2.5. Startups and the Associated Characteristics of a Business

For [24] creating any product or service entails the coalescing of the factors which pertain to production. Labour, capital, land, and entrepreneurs are the factors needed to be combined in order to ensure the successful startup of a business. A number of governments of countries throughout the world today promote the start-ups of small businesses as a measure to boost economic growth and levels of employment [25,26]. Promoting the startups of businesses necessitates granting reasonable access to essential resources.
It is believed by many that South Africa needs to promote the starting and growth of small businesses if it is to combat poverty successfully through the creation of employment [7], as high levels of poverty and unemployment continue to thwart the socio-economic development of the country. Any strategy that aims to curb poverty and unemployment by encouraging the startup of viable and sustainable small businesses must, by necessity, also entail concerted efforts to eliminate the challenges which hinder the progress of small-scale entrepreneurs at present.

Challenges Affecting the Startups of Small Businesses in South Africa

The starting of businesses has never been without obstacles, some of which are summarised as follows:
Registration and taxation: According to [27], the process of registering businesses in South Africa is complex compared with those which are to be found in other emerging economies and in the developed economies. The process in South Africa includes nine procedural requirements, which entail a period of 38 days and it is often expensive, particularly for foreigners. The complexity of the process tends to demotivate some people from starting up businesses [27].
Limited or no access to bank loans: According to the National Credit Regulator (NCR), most South Africans borrow money in order to start or buy a business. In the light of this finding, it is of great significance to note that just over 2% of SMMEs in South Africa have access to bank loans, in all probability owing to limited credit histories and a lack of collateral, in a great many cases [28]. It can be asserted quite unequivocally that the absence of adequate finance constitutes one of the most significant stumbling blocks to the startups of small businesses in South Africa at present [7].
High rental costs: As high rental costs present significant obstacles to the startups of businesses, [29] recommend that emerging entrepreneurs should enter into partnerships in order to overcome them.
Limited business space: Fatoki and Garwe [28] maintain that limited access to business space has adverse implications for the launching of businesses, as it places severe restrictions upon the growth potential of new businesses.
If successfully lunched, the firm that survives the startup stage moves into the growth phase.

2.6. The Growth of Businesses and the Associated Characteristics

The criterion for the growth of businesses which is employed in this study relates to businesses which have been in existence for three years or longer and have achieved a considerable degree of progress with respect to financial assets. However, [30] maintain that there is generally no acceptable criterion for assessing the growth of businesses, owing to the complexity which is entailed in its measurement.
Some of the characteristics that indicate the growth of businesses which have been identified by [31] include:
  • domination of certain niche areas of markets;
  • uniqueness in the sense of differing from competitors;
  • being product-oriented with respect to quality, branding, and offering value to customers;
  • the ability to be flexible, to take advantage of opportunities, and to minimise threats;
  • the ability to innovate more quickly than growing competitors; and
  • orientation towards marketing, the development of products, capacity-building, and expansion of distribution channels.
Noting that the aforementioned measures of growth are broad, [32] suggests that growth can be placed into four main categories as follows:
  • Financial growth, which is reflected in a number of ways, including increased total assets, increased turnover, increased returns on investments and increased profits.
  • Strategic growth, which refers to the changes which occur in the life cycle of a business as a result of initiatives to gain an increased share of the market [31].
  • Structural growth, which refers to the changes which take place owing to the way in which a business structures its internal system, managerial roles and responsibilities, communication links, control of resources, and reporting relationships [33].
  • Organisational growth, which refers to the changes which take place in the processes, attitudes and culture of an organisation as it grows [32].
Of these four categories of growth, the one which is applicable to this study is financial growth, as the main concern of the researcher in this study relates to the role which finance plays in relation to the startups and growth of businesses.

2.7. The Role of Finance in the Startup and Growth of a Business

According to [34], the emergence of microfinance is a consequence of the shortcomings of the traditional funding approach. As an integral approach to financial development, microfinance is praised for being a bottom-up financial tool with a sustainable focus.
As has already been noted, finance plays a pivotal role in the startups and growth of businesses. Among its chief functions is the use for which it can be put forth, in order to acquire the resources which are needed to ensure either the successful start-ups or the growth of businesses [24]. As most prospective owners of small businesses cannot fulfill the requirements of banks in the formal sector, they are likely to turn to informal sources of financial support [35].

2.7.1. Access to Finance

Obtaining credit for the start-ups of businesses is almost always more difficult for emerging entrepreneurs from ethnic minority population groups than it is for others [36]. Zolin and Schlosser [37] explain that immigrants are disadvantaged with respect to obtaining financial capital for a number of different possible reasons. Their credit history may not be easily or readily accessible, which would inevitably make it difficult for them to apply for credit in their adopted countries.
According to [38], it is not an easy task to accumulate capital for the launching of an entrepreneurial enterprise, particularly for immigrants. Many researchers have reached the conclusion that as banks and other financial institutions in the formal sector have never been easily accessible to ethnic minorities, immigrant entrepreneurs have been obliged to rely on their personal savings and the social resources of their ethnic communities [39].
However, [40] explain that most prospective immigrant entrepreneurs very often begin by seeking temporary employment in small enterprises which provide them with opportunities to work for extended hours. This strategy enables them to accumulate capital and also to acquire some of the business skills which enable them to make the transition to becoming self-employed entrepreneurs.
According to [7], the growth of a great many Small, Medium, and Micro-sized Enterprises (SMMEs) is severely impeded by a lack of access to finance. This assessment is shared by [41], who maintain that insufficient access to finance has been and remains a major obstacle to the successful development of small businesses in South Africa.

2.7.2. Startup Capital, Growth Capital, and Immigrant Entrepreneurs

The availability of adequate capital is a crucial factor for the success of any business. Bates [42] believes that there is a significant relationship between the size of startup capital and the startup’s subsequent growth of the businesses of immigrant entrepreneurs. He found that Vietnamese entrepreneurs in India depended on members of their families and friends for loans to fund their businesses. As a consequence, their businesses were often limited in size and vulnerable to high probabilities of failure. This finding suggests that reasonable access to formal financial institutions would improve the startups and the prospects for survival of the businesses of these immigrant entrepreneurs. Conversely, this conclusion would be less relevant in the cases of immigrant entrepreneurs who have limited access to financial support from formal financial institutions as a result of ethno-racial discrimination [43]. In addition, they are usually poor and do not possess credit histories or assets to support their applications for loans.
Tengeh et al. [6] contends that entrepreneurs from minority groups borrow informally from members of their ethnic communities, as a result of discrimination on the part of formal sources of finance such as commercial banks. Fatoki [2] also confirms that families and friends in ethnic communities represent an important source of financial resources for immigrant entrepreneurs. Tengeh et al. [6] found a high degree of reliance on personal savings among African immigrant entrepreneurs in South Africa.

3. Research, Design, and Methodology

3.1. Research Design

The research design made use of both quantitative and qualitative research methods. The rationale for this blended approach was to maximise the benefits of both the quantitative and qualitative approaches. In support of this approach, [44] concede that the mixed method ensures that the information obtained from different sources converge to support or refute a particular theory or hypothesis. Accordingly, a mixed methods research paradigm was deemed to be most suitable for the purposes of this study. The quantitative and the qualitative data was collected through the administration of a questionnaire and the conducting of face-to face interviews respectively, owing to the nature of the target population. According to [45], the questionnaire is suitable for soliciting information that can be quantified such as the one required in this study.
The questionnaire was formulated to carter for biographical data, multiple answer questions, and those that could be answered on a five-point likert scale (the scale ranged from 1 = Strongly disagree to 5 = Strongly agree). This approach is supported by [46,47] who note that a likert scale can be used to evaluate the respondent’s opinion with regards to a specific statement. As with closed-ended questions, the respondents are encouraged to select one or more responses from the list provided, while open-ended questions require them to write their answers in the space reserved for that purpose [46].
The data which was collected from the respondents who completed the questionnaires was captured, categorised, and analysed in relation to the research questions through the use of SPSS statistical software and the findings were presented in the form of frequency tables and pie charts.

3.2. Target Population and Sampling

Sekaran and Bougie [48] explain that a target population in a research study in which there are human participants refers to all of the people who qualify to be selected for inclusion in the research sample for a specific study. In a preliminary assessment, the researcher identified 22 Cameroon njangi groups, with an average membership of 16. For the purposes of this study, the target population was considered to comprise all of the Cameroonian immigrants who are engaged in informal economic activities and members of one of the njangis or stokvels which had been identified within the Cape Metropolitan Area.
In the absence of a comprehensive database, a purposive sampling strategy was employed to recruit participants to respond to the questionnaire and to take part in the face-to-face interviews. Owing to the absence of an official database of immigrant-owned businesses in South Africa [6], it was difficult to obtain a reliable estimate of the actual size of the target population for a study of this nature. However, by taking into consideration previous studies concerning immigrant entrepreneurship in South Africa in general and in Cape Town in particular [5,7,29,49], an average sample size of 119 was obtained and the researcher settled on a final sample size of 123 respondents. In accordance with the assessment of [49] that between eight and 12 interviews should be sufficient to study a fairly homogenous group, 10 participants were selected for the face-to-face interviews.

3.3. Procedures Followed to Collect and to Analyse the Data

The study was carried out between June 2016 and August 2016, during which 123 questionnaires were administered and 10 face-to-face interviews were conducted. The quantitative data was analysed using the latest version of the SPSS software (version 24), while thematic analysis was employed in order to analyse the data which was obtained from the face-to-face interviews. The results of the quantitative study were presented in the form of tables. Verbatim quotations were used to illustrate specific themes which emerged from the data which was obtained from the interviews, which supported the findings which were obtained from the survey questionnaire.

4. Findings and Discussion

4.1. Sectors in Which the Businesses of the Participants Operated

Table 2 shows that a majority of 59.3% of the respondents operated in the trading sector, 37.4% in the service sector and 3.3% in the manufacturing sector.

4.2. Estimated Startup Capital

Table 3 shows that a relatively small majority of 25.2% of the respondents revealed that they had started their businesses with capital which fell within the range of R10,001 to R20,000. This finding contrasts with that of [7], who found that the majority of African immigrants in his study had started their businesses with capital of R5000 or less. A further 23.6% of the respondents revealed that they had started their businesses with capital of R5000 or less, which aligns with the finding of [7]. It was also found that 15% of the respondents had started their businesses with capital in the range of R50,001 to R100,000, 14.6% had done so with capital which had ranged from R5001 to R10,000, while 14.6% had started with startup capital of between R10,001 and R20,001. Only 4.1% had started with capital of between R100,001 and R250,000 and a tiny minority of 2.4% had done so with capital of R500,000 or more. These findings suggest that immigrants generally encounter great difficulty in raising adequate funding to start their businesses and are very often obliged to start them from very humble beginnings.

4.3. Sources of Startup Finance

As can be seen in Table 4, the respondents had made use of a variety of sources of capital in order to start their businesses. The most commonly used sources were personal savings, members of their families and friends, commercial banks and other formal financial institutions, and informal financial institutions, such as stokvels.
From an analysis of the results which are presented in the table, it was apparent that the use of personal savings as a source of startup capital (36.5% of the respondents) surpassed that of the other sources. This finding aligns closely with that of [7], who found that an overwhelming majority of the African immigrants who were engaged in entrepreneurial activities in the Cape Metropolitan Area in his study had used their personal savings as startup capital.
As can be seen in Table 5, a very significant majority of 92.6% of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that stokvels provide financial support for the start-ups of businesses, while only 5.7% disagreed and 1.6% were undecided.
Although the results which are presented in Table 4 and Table 5 may appear to be contradictory, observations and further investigation of the sources of funds which had been used by the respondents, such as personal savings, loans from members of their families and friends, suggested that all of these different sources of funding had originated from stokvels.
The quantitative findings were confirmed by a general consensus among the interviewees in the qualitative study that their stokvels had provided the capital for the startups of the businesses of the respondents to the questionnaire. In the words of interviewee D:
“… Our group has done a lot to help members grow in business. For instance, most of us started our businesses after benefitting from contributions made by this group.”

4.4. Estimated Present Capital

Table 6 indicates that a majority of almost 31% of the businesses of the respondents had capital of between R50,000 and R100,000 when the questionnaires were administered. It also shows that a significant 24.4% had capital ranging between R100,001 and R250,000, while the present capital of 17.9% ranged between R20,001 and R50,000. It was considered to be of great significance that the present capital of none occupied the R1000 to R5000 bracket.
By comparing the results which were obtained from the respondents concerning their estimated startup capital and their estimated present capital, it may be reasonably concluded that there has been a significant growth in the capital of each respondent in the research sample for the quantitative study. Only 3.3% of the respondents were found to have an estimated capital of between R5001 to R10,000, compared with 14.6% who fell within this bracket during the startups of their businesses. This finding is further supported by that which revealed that none of the respondents had an estimated present capital of less than R5000, as opposed to 23.6% whose estimated capital had been at this level during the start-ups of their businesses.

4.5. Membership of Stokvels

As purposive sampling was employed, it could be ensured that all of the respondents were members of stokvels.

4.5.1. Numbers of Stokvels to Which the Respondents Belonged

Table 7 shows that a very significant 83.7% of the respondents belonged to just one stokvel group. A further 14.6% were found to belong to two different stokvel groups, while only 1.6% belonged to more than two different groups.

4.5.2. Reasons for Belonging to More than One Stokvel Group

Table 8 below shows that 51.5% of those respondents who belonged to more than one stokvel group did so because they wished to improve their prospects of obtaining adequate finance for their businesses, while 36.5% did so in order to spread their risks in case of defaulting on the part of members of a group or the collapse of one of the groups. Only 12% belonged to more than one group because they believed that their funding needed to increase as their businesses expanded.

4.6. Stokvels Provide Capital for the Expansion of Businesses

Table 9 below shows that a majority of 65% of the respondents agreed and a further 27.6% strongly agreed that stokvels provide capital for the expansion and growth of businesses. Only 7% disagreed and 2% were undecided.
In support of this finding, interviewee D said:
“ … Others have expanded their business thanks to these same contributions. So if you didn`t benefit at the time that you started your business, you must have benefited somewhere along the line and this must have helped to increase your capital.”
The participants in the interviews maintained that stokvels also supported the startups and the growth of the businesses of their members by:
  • Providing interest-free loans to members.
  • Giving those members who are in dire need or distress the option to benefit first.
Interviewee E explained the different perceptions of the respondents to the question of the payments which they received from their stokvels as follows:
“As the group leader, I think I can see the angle from which the difference in opinions is coming. You know, the order of our njangi beneficiaries is determined through balloting and members benefit in a rotating process, which therefore means that those members who are lucky to pick early numbers benefit early and this can be considered as interest-free loans that have been granted to them. But you will not expect a member who benefits towards the end to see this as an interest-free loan. He will rather see it as savings.”
Interviewee F, another group leader, said:
“Our njangi sometimes recognises members who are in difficulties and in need of cash. In these cases, we may unanimously decide to give the very early contributions to them so as to help them come out of the difficulties. We see it as an interest-free loan. Can a bank loan you money to be paying just the premium with no interest charged? I don’t think so.”

5. Conclusions and Implications

Limited finance is indubitably an impediment to the startups and the growth of all Small, Medium, and Micro-sized Enterprises (SMMEs), irrespective of the countries of origin of individual entrepreneurs. Conversely, restricted access to financial resources tends to be of greater concern for immigrant entrepreneurs than for their indigenous counterparts. The main reasons for the difficulties which they encounter tend to lie in the characteristics of immigrant entrepreneurs and their enterprises, and also in the lack of familiarity of mainstream financial institutions in the formal sector with immigrant borrowers, and even possibly in discrimination against them.
This state of affairs tends to generate two categories of negative consequences for aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs. The first entails many not being able to achieve satisfactory startups for their businesses and achieving a desirable degree of growth becoming an additional obstacle in many of the relatively few cases in which satisfactory start-ups are achieved. The second results in immigrants not being given an opportunity to make as great a socio-economic contribution to the South African economy as their entrepreneurial abilities could potentially enable them to make. In the worst possible case scenario, immigrants become obliged to compete with native South Africans for employment, rather than creating employment as a means of reducing levels of unemployment and poverty among the poorest segments of South African society. However, it needs to be stressed that through their own self-reliance, many immigrant entrepreneurs have managed to establish sustainable businesses, with the assistance of funding from within their ethnic communities, which have provided employment and incomes for South African citizens. Stokvels and njangis have played no small part in enabling them to make the contributions which they have made to date.
The results of this study align with the literature which suggests that most would-be immigrant entrepreneurs struggle to obtain sufficient startup capital. For instance, it was found that the majority of the respondents to the survey questionnaire had started their businesses with capital in the region of R20,000 (US$1473) or less. Although it was found that 35.1% of the respondents had drawn their startup capital from personal savings and a further 36.5% had obtained it from either members of their families or friends, stokvels had played a significant role in the startups of their businesses. It also emerged from the findings that stokvels played an equally significant role in providing the capital, which was necessary for the growth of their businesses. Other findings included the fact that significant numbers of members of stokvels belong to more than one group, in order to spread the risks which are associated with belonging to a single stokvel and also in order to improve their prospects of obtaining sufficient finance for their ventures.
Our review of the literature and analysis of the challenges that immigrant entrepreneurs need to overcome to gain a meaningfully access to capital for startup and growth points to a numbers of lessons that can be considered when designing an entrepreneurial ecosystems. For instance, going on the assumption that access to financial services from formal financial institutions would broaden if the barriers that hinder individual access is minimized, it may be assumed that widening access to finance, in order to improve the startups and growth of small businesses, would require inclusive policy initiatives which take into consideration the unique characteristics of immigrant entrepreneurs and the businesses that they operate. In the case where such policies cannot directly widen access to formal finance, the government could do so indirectly by providing a conducive framework for informal financial institutions. Providing vital management training to disadvantaged entrepreneurs (such as immigrant entrepreneurs) may improve the sustainability of the informal financial associations and this in turn may have a positive impact on their businesses. Furthermore, immigrant entrepreneurs could be encouraged to form informal associations to bridge the apparent limited access to finance that hinders the startup and expansion of immigrant-owned businesses.

6. Limitations of the Study and Suggestions for Future Studies

The findings of this study are not without limitations. In the first instance, the implications of growth were discussed solely in relation to financial growth. In the second, the extent to which the findings could be generalised to immigrant entrepreneurs in other ethnic communities in the Cape Metropolitan Area, or even to Cameroonian entrepreneurs in other centres in South Africa is not known at present. A further limitation was imposed by the relatively small sample size and whatever shortcomings may be inherent in the sampling technique.
All of these limitations open the way for future studies, which should take into consideration other areas of South Africa and also immigrant entrepreneurs from other countries.

Author Contributions

Robertson K. Tengeh and Linus Nkem designed and performed the study. All the authors have read and approved the final manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Table 1. Immigrant entrepreneurship: concepts and definitions.
Table 1. Immigrant entrepreneurship: concepts and definitions.
Immigrant entrepreneurAny newly immigrated person who establishes a business in the host country to sustain himself or herself.
Ethnic entrepreneurSomeone who establishes a business with the assistance of a social network and particularly people from his or her ethic or social background
Minority entrepreneurAnyone who establishes a business and is not member of one of the majority ethnic groups in the population of the country in which he or she resides.
Source: [12].
Table 2. Sectors in which the respondents operated.
Table 2. Sectors in which the respondents operated.
FrequencyPercentageValid PercentageCumulative Percentage
Source: Authors.
Table 3. Estimated startup capital.
Table 3. Estimated startup capital.
FrequencyPercentageValid PercentageCumulative Percentage
R1000 to R50002923.623.623.6
R5001 to R10,0001814.614.638.2
R10,001 to R20,0001814.614.652.8
R20,001 to R50,0003125.225.278.0
R50,001 to R100,0001915.415.493.5
R100,001 to R250,00054.14.197.6
Above R500,00032.42.4100.0
Source: authors.
Table 4. Sources of startup capital.
Table 4. Sources of startup capital.
NumberPercentagePercentage of Cases
Families and friends10135.1%82%
Own savings10536.5%85.4%
Commercial banks20.7%1.6%
Informal financial institutions such as stokvels8027.7%65%
Source: authors.
Table 5. Stokvels provide seed capital for businesses.
Table 5. Stokvels provide seed capital for businesses.
FrequencyPercentageCumulative Percentage
Strongly agree3427.6100.0
Source: authors.
Table 6. Estimated present capital.
Table 6. Estimated present capital.
FrequencyPercentageValid PercentageCumulative Percentage
R5001 to R10,00043.33.33.3
R10,001 to R20,0001713.813.817.1
R20,001 to R50,0002217.917.935.0
R50,001 to R100,0003830.930.965.9
R100,001 to R250,0003024.424.490.2
R250,001 to R500,00064.94.995.1
Above R500,00064.94.9100.0
Source: authors.
Table 7. Numbers of stokvel groups to which the respondents belonged.
Table 7. Numbers of stokvel groups to which the respondents belonged.
FrequencyPercentageValid PercentageCumulative Percentage
Only one10383.783.783.7
Two groups1814.614.698.4
More than two21.61.6100.0
Source: authors.
Table 8. Reasons provided by respondents for belonging to more than one stokvel group.
Table 8. Reasons provided by respondents for belonging to more than one stokvel group.
Number of ResponsesPercentage of ResponsesPercentage of Cases
To improve my prospects for obtaining the funding which I need1751.5%13.8%
Because my funding needs increase as my business expands412%3.3%
To spread my risks in case of defaulting by members of one group or the collapse of one group1236.5%9.8%
Source: authors.
Table 9. Stokvels provide capital for the expansion of businesses.
Table 9. Stokvels provide capital for the expansion of businesses.
FrequencyPercentageCumulative Percentage
Strongly agree3427.6100.0
Source: authors.

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Tengeh, R.K.; Nkem, L. Sustaining Immigrant Entrepreneurship in South Africa: The Role of Informal Financial Associations. Sustainability 2017, 9, 1396.

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Tengeh RK, Nkem L. Sustaining Immigrant Entrepreneurship in South Africa: The Role of Informal Financial Associations. Sustainability. 2017; 9(8):1396.

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Tengeh, Robertson K., and Linus Nkem. 2017. "Sustaining Immigrant Entrepreneurship in South Africa: The Role of Informal Financial Associations" Sustainability 9, no. 8: 1396.

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