Informal traders selling sweets, chips, cigarettes and cool drinks to Montague Gardens factory workers say City law enforcement officers are taking away their livelihoods by seizing their stock in random raids.
The traders have to go to Bellville and pay a fine – anything between R500 to R1000, according to one of the traders – before they can get their merchandise back.
Mzimkhulu Sopeni said he and some 20-odd other traders had run their small businesses from the industrial area’s pavements for about a decade, but the law enforcement raids had become more frequent in the past year.
He said he realised law-enforcement officers were just doing their job but they wouldn’t have to if the City had kept a promise to speed up the issuing of trading permits.
It’s because they don’t have trading permits that the pavement vendors are attracting the attention of law enforcement. There are only two traders with permits and designated bays in the area. “Last year in January, we were promised by the City that there were plans in place to sort this issue out, and by now we should have had permits,” said Mr Sopeni.
“This is now the second year, and we are still waiting for permits and that is why many of us feel hard done by.”
A trader, who did not want to be named fearing victimisation, questioned why law enforcement acted against them but not against the many people trading without permits in Joe Slovo’s Freedom Way.
“Is it because they are trading in a township where the City doesn’t care whether people are breaking the rules or not? Are we being targeted because we sell in an industrial area where there are white people afraid we will make the area dirty? We need answers as to why we are not getting permits to trade here. The City owes us answers,” he said.
Law enforcement’s last raid in Montague Gardens was on Wednesday March 28, but the traders have vowed to keep doing business in the area.
“We are not going to fight with them, but I want them to know that it will not be the last time we trade there. We won’t stop coming here and trading because we do this for our families. What do they want us to do – go out and steal for a living? We can’t be treated like this in South Africa,” said Mr Sopeni.
Ward 4 councillor, Wandisile Ngeyi said he had met Mr Sopeni to discuss the issue.
“We should understand that this is a delicate matter, and the plan is not easy to implement. On the other side though, I would love to help out because I know that this is how people make their living. They don’t sell alcohol. They don’t sell drugs. So we should help these people out,” said Mr Ngeyi.
Jonty de la Porte, chairman of the Montague Gardens-Marconi Beam Improvement District (MMID), said they were “very tolerant” of the traders who in most cases provided a “much needed service” to people working in the area.
“If the City was to grant permits to the traders, we would not be opposed to it because we know there is a high unemployment rate in South Africa. It has to be said though that we already have 24 traders in the area. We can’t have any more, as we already have a good relationship with the existing ones,” said Mr De la Porte.
Area north Mayco member Suzette Little said informal trading in Montague Gardens was regulated under a 2015 trading plan that required all traders to have a valid permit.
Changes could be made to that plan but it would need public consultation and council approval. The process to review the current plan had been set in motion, she said.
City officials had explained the process to the traders and told them of the ward councillor’s intention to increase the number of trading bays.“However, the traders demanded temporary permits and they were informed that we are not authorised to issue temporary permits,” Ms little said.
But Simon Sithole, who has been trading in the area since 2010, said their permits had expired in 2015, and the City had promised to renew them.
“We went to renew them, and were told that there is no one to sign off on the permits,” he said.
“We have had countless meetings with City officials since then, but here we still are with no permits.”
He said he usually earned about R3000 a week trading but only R700 if his goods were confiscated.
Ms Little said the City was committed to broadening and supporting the informal trading sector within a regulated environment.
“Informal trading plays just as an important part in the local economy as formal trading. We urge the traders for patience and support for the current unfolding review process until its conclusion.”