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Municipality shakes down informal traders

Just over a week ago, hundreds of traders, led by the Market Users Committee (MUC) and the South African Informal Traders Forum (SAITF), took to the streets of Durban to voice their concerns over the by-law changes in the eThekwini Municipality’s inner city rejuvenation plan.

During the march, the SAITF issued a memorandum to the municipality demanding a meeting to discuss what the SAITF referred to as the municipality’s “management failures” and “lack of communication” regarding its plans. In their memorandum, SAITF gave municipal officials a seven day deadline to meet with them, so as to discuss the new campaign.

According to a statement on the municipality’s website, aspects highlighted by the new by-laws include, “prohibition of trading in places where informal trading is restricted, confiscation of goods, regulation of abandoned goods and plans to crack down on people trading without permits”. Although the new by-laws have been introduced as a means to regenerate the area, over 280 informal traders in Durban’s inner City will be affected by these laws – as stated by the MUC.

This week, municipal officials began parts of the campaign which has left informal traders shaken down. One such trader is Nhlanhla Ncane* who had his goods confiscated by municipal officials last week Thursday.

“They were here. They took my goods. I had to go to their offices and bail my goods out for R600. They weigh your goods and tell you how much you need to bail them out. Mine came to R600. On top of that, I had to fork out R150 more so they can bring the goods back to the CBD with me. In total I paid R750 just to get my goods back. I am trading without a permit, so they will be back to impound my goods again and I will have to pay again”, said Ncane.

Another informal trader that understands Ncane’s pain is Sindisiwe Sithole* who has been trading on Anton Lembede (Smith Street) for over ten years. “I have a permit. I’ve had it for a while but I share in the pain of what my fellow traders are going through. This is our livelihood. This is how we make a living and this is how we feed our families. It’s hard to see all of that getting taken away from somebody”, said Sithole.

“I am only safe because I do have a permit, but that permit comes at a cost. You have to pay a R 1000 every year in order to keep your permit or they take it away. Not everyone can afford that,” she continued.

While many traders (including Sithole) have permits, Ncane says that having one is not the easiest solution. “I have thought about getting a trading permit but permits are not easy to get because of all the corruption that takes place at the municipality. The people meant to issue those permits are selling them. I can’t afford to bribe someone in order to get a permit. I simply don’t have the money,” he said.

“Yes, the cleaning rejuvenation campaign is a great initiative but it’s hurting us. The only way it would work is if all the corruption from the municipality was sifted out first and people got permits earnestly,” Ncane added.

In 2013, the municipality invited informal and retail market traders to make recommendations on proposed trading regulations, and although some of their complaints are being dealt with, Sithole says that these by-laws are giving officials power to oppress them. “I feel that parts of the rejuvenation campaign are good but I cannot praise the campaign as a whole. Yes, some of the City is actually getting cleaned up but it’s being done in a very harsh and disorganised manner. The municipality needs to relook at it,” said Sithole.

The eThekwini Municiplaity is yet to hold the proposed meeting with SAITF and MUC members.

*Names of traders have been changed in order to conceal their true identities.

Thabisile Ngeleka 

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