informal traders

informal traders

  • SAITF to Take City of Joburg to Court

    The South African Informal Trader's Forum (SAITF) has announced plans to take the City of Johannesburg to court over the removal of informal traders in the Johannesburg central business district (CBD).

    In a press statement, SAITF states that the court action followed weeks of speaking to the city in order to find solutions to the evictions of traders.

    "The City of Johannesburg, in its clean sweep operation, removed illegal and legal traders regardless of whether one was in possession of a permit, lease or not," it states.

    To read the article titled, “Informal traders to take City of Joburg to court,” click here.

    Mail and Guardian
  • Learners Cause Chaos in Jo’burg CBD

    Learners who trashed the Johannesburg City Centre during a protest blame supporters of the Economic Freedom Fighters for the scuffle with vendors and shop owners. 

    The march led by the Congress of South Students (COSAS) deteriorated after their memorandum of grievances relating to improvement of school conditions was handed over to the Gauteng Education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi.

    COSAS president general, Collin Malatji, says they are not certain if the four learners who were taken to hospital were their members, despite the organisation being known for such behaviour in the past.

    To read the article titled, “COSAS causes havoc in Joburg CBD,” click here.

    SABC News
  • Formal vs. Informal Economy: Bridging the Gap

    There is a deep and growing anger in the world. The ferment bursts onto our television (TV) screens daily.
    They explode the myth that we have a ‘good story’ to tell. From the Marikana massacre in South Africa to the Rana Square tragedy in Bangladesh, from the murder of trade unionists in Guatemala to the Soma mine disaster in Turkey, there is no ‘good story’ to talk about. In fact, people feel abandoned by their governments. With few exceptions, world leaders and international institutions are pursuing an economic agenda that has created greater inequality and devastating unemployment, undermining democracies everywhere and bringing the planet to the environmental precipice.

    Last month, I chaired a panel on the Informal Economy at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Congress in Berlin. It was the first time that grassroots voices and activists from the informal sector shared a global stage. I was inspired by the stories of hardship, perseverance and the struggle for human dignity that washed over me during the course of the discussions.

    Listening to Shabnam, a garment worker in Gujarat state of India, a member of the two million-strong Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Union, I heard an incredible story. She was militant, confident and spoke in Gujarati through an interpreter. “I did piece work for a contractor who paid me so little for the work I did. I had no self-respect. I worked hard every day, from morning to night. Yet I did not even have money to buy food for my children. We had to cut a roti (flatbread) in pieces. I fed the children first. I often went to bed without eating. I was exploited, in the home and in the community. I felt alone and powerless.”

    Shabnam is part of a growing informal sector that today accounts for close to 40 percent of the global economy. In the desperation to secure higher profits, transnational companies are hunting locations where cheap goods can be mass-produced in sweatshops. It is a direct attack on worker and human rights, and often only possible thanks to the collusion of unscrupulous politicians and state officials.

    “I heard about SEWA,” Shabnam continued. “I went to their offices. I found other women. I found solidarity. I learnt about my rights. I discovered my identity. I was a woman. I was a human being. I took off my burqa. I learned that my daughters should be educated. They had rights. Unlike me, who never went out of the home. I give them the freedom to go out and mix with other people. If you cut my hand or that of any other person, the blood you see is red. It does not matter whether you are man or woman, what your colour or your caste or your religion is. We are all human beings.”

    Following this incredible story, I turned to the president of SEWA, Kapilaben Vankar, and asked how SEWA has helped women in India. “We are not afraid anymore,” she said. “We have our identity now. I am a woman and no one can take away my human rights. I contribute by working to my family, my community and my country.”
    As I watched them articulate their position, I noted the outpouring of courage and could not help but be inspired. It made me think of the past, and I recalled the slow, steady building of workers’ power in South Africa. It was women like Shabnam and Kapilaben who were the backbone. Doubly oppressed because they faced gender and political discrimination under apartheid, many women had related to me how they faced beatings even from their own husbands for attending union meetings at night and weekends. But they remained defiant and determined.

    Suddenly, I was seeing that same courage over again. As Kapilaben articulated, “We are the majority. Nine out of 10 jobs in India are informal. It is work. We are workers. We want our legal rights recognised so that we can also benefit from social protection and other entitlements that workers in the formal economy have. We want economic freedom. But we are invisible to government and also to the formal unions. Our issues are the same. We want legal contracts. We want social protection. We want to be paid a fair wage and have pensions and compensation. Otherwise the contractors and bosses treat us like modern-day slaves.”
    These women articulated not just the woes of workers in India, but across the world - from waste pickers and street traders to subsistence farmers and the fisher communities. The formal economy is in-formalising.

    Jorge Ramada, another panelist, was from the Uruguay Waste Pickers Union. He is a salt-of-the-earth comrade - long-haired, tea flask slung around his neck. He conjures up the image of the president of his country, José Mujica, who drives a Volkswagen Beetle, lives in his own modest house, donates 90 percent of his salary to social projects and is the poorest president in the world.

    “Our freedom and accountability came from organising the progressive forces. We built a united front, understanding our struggle was political. Waste pickers were seen as the dregs of society. Our first fight was for human rights and our identity. Now we have our humanity restored,” said Jorge.

    Waste pickers are the forefront troops of the environmental struggle. Often ignored by organised civil society groups, even though climate change is high on the global agenda, they refuse to be cast aside. According to a Women in Informal Employment: Globalising & Organising (WIEGO) report, “In cities across the world, millions of people sustain themselves and their families by reclaiming what is reusable and recyclable. They are frequently ignored within public policy processes and harassed and persecuted by authorities.”

    As Jorge noted, “We are the ones protecting the environment every day. We want to be recognised as workers. Local governments should listen to us. We know how to make the waste disposal systems more efficient.”

    I recalled Uruguayan President Mujica condemning the ‘blind obsession’ with achieving economic growth through consumption. It is this “hyper-consumption that is destroying the environment. The cause is the model of civilisation that we have created. And the thing we have to re-examine is our way of life," he said. He insists that all government policies promote the use of renewable energy and recycling. Uruguay has set an ambitious goal of producing 90 percent of its energy through renewable sources in the next decade. But he grudgingly accepts he must focus on jobs and growth that improve the lives of his people.

    It is activists like Jorge who are his key allies. It is organisations like the ITUC who must make this the single-minded focus of strategy in the next decade; bridging the divide between the informal and formal economy; organising and building workers’ power and fighting for a floor of social protection rights across the world for all workers.

    That is the only way we are able to defeat the modern-day slavery that faces 20 million workers in the world, mainly children and women. That is the only way we can advance a sustainable world that does not mortgage our children’s future because human greed is causing irreversible climate change that threatens the future of food security, access to water, land, grazing and economic security in the world.

    As Sharan Burrow, the ITUC general secretary, declared: “Our priority is ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’. But there are no jobs on a dead planet. We need to be greening the global economy and we need to tame corporate power. Unemployment, wages and inequality are the major issues for working people all over the world.”

    Organised labour, grassroots social movements and progressive non-governmental organisations, the workers on the shop floor, the informal workers in our streets, farms and villages, the youth, women and intelligentsia are the best hope of a world that is built on justice, human dignity, social solidarity and inclusive growth. I would love to see a united front that has a compelling narrative of people-centred democracy, all of which aims to realise an old American First Nations’ proverb: “We did not inherit our world from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”

    Read more: - Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of COSATU, former Minister in the Mandela Government and Chair of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). You can follow him on Twitter, or visit his Facebook Page or
    Jay Naidoo
  • City Agreement With Informal Traders

    The City of Johannesburg has reached an agreement with local informal traders on business by-laws.

    In a press statement, the city points out that an urgent meeting was convened following allegations of abuse of power by the metro police officers, reported to the city by the South African National Traders' Retail Alliance.

    It says part of the agreement stipulated that the city and traders’ associations work together to discourage illegal trading, and to ensure that traders were allowed in demarcated areas only if they have permits.

    “The meeting was attended by senior officials from the city and the Johannesburg metropolitan police department, as well as the majority of organised informal trader organisation leadership.”

    To read the article titled, “Agreement reached with Joburg hawkers,” click here.

    Independent Online
  • Who’s Feeling It? Informal traders and the World Cup

    As the whole country gears up for the quickly approaching 2010 FIFA World Cup, not everyone is happy. Informal traders are waiting for a response this week from FIFA to demands made last week at a demonstration outside ‘Soccer City’ protesting their exclusion from World Cup commerce. In the shadow of the Coca-Cola tower, over 100 informal traders presented a memorandum to FIFA executives, who promised a reply within seven days.

    This is not the first such protest in the country. Since FIFA passed by-laws preventing informal traders from selling near stadiums during the World Cup, reserving these sites for FIFA affiliates and corporate sponsors, this marginalised group has hit the streets, literally.

    Many of these individuals host their businesses and earn their livelihoods on the streets. However, on this day they transformed this space to a place of protest. These "hawkers," as they are commonly known, are trying to reclaim their basic human rights in their own way and on their own stomping ground. At the foothills of the massive state of the art soccer stadium, one wondered if these Davids could trump the FIFA Goliath that they say has hijacked what was once their South Africa.

    Historically informal traders have had to be crafty, utilising unused spaces to offer convenient services and goods. Usually strategically placed near transport hubs and other attractions, from a social perspective, their services are key. They offer freshly cooked food and cold drinks appealing to people on the move for nominal fees. This would seem to fulfil the utopian ideals of community and labour power espoused by Karl Marx. However, when ideals enmesh with big business, the story changes.

    Everyone wants to profit from the World Cup, from the small business owner to the taxi driver to the CEO of Vodacom. However, informal traders who have had to conduct their business informally because they do not have the means to form established businesses are even further off the grid as now FIFA has taken back the parking lots and sidelines they once occupied, to say "all mine."

    Article 4.7.2. of the FIFA by-laws state: No Person may undertake any event or a Special Event at a Public Open Space or in its surrounding vicinity, which will or may be used for the purposes of the Competition unless specifically authorised by the Municipality.

    A middle-aged man held a sign reading ‘Informal traders support football but FIFA by-laws promotes poverty’. In this context, how could a company that profits millions of dollars be concerned about such competition?
    Another sign read "Where is the government I've worked for? Is FIFA now my new government?" South Africa is a country with a tumultuous history, yet has made great strides to achieve democracy. And now, on the cusp of the largest global event to hit her shores, why is FIFA replacing the government structures that support the people of South Africa?

    From Freedom Tours to Freedom Fries

    The South African tourism website offers catchy slogans like, "South Africa: It's Possible," and featured tours like "KwaZulu-Natal Freedom Route." Many tourists come with Hollywood dreams, and want to see the Big Five and African tribes, even if these enforce stereotypes. While FIFA does buy into some Orientalist fantasies, by attempting to promote legalised sex work, it would appear that they would rather promote brands like McDonalds to feed the masses exactly what they would get at home.

    One trader at the protest questioned whether they thought such food sold on the streets was unclean, while another suggested maybe tourists would not want to eat pap, and FIFA is serving their taste buds and digestive tracts. However, many South Africans have also purchased tickets to the matches, and prefer their own local food, and surely when foreigners arrive, they too will want a taste of the local culture.
    In an attempt to make this country more palatable, FIFA and its affiliates are serving up a South Africa which is pre-packaged, wrapped in cellophane and arranged five to a shelf. Whether or not the public will buy it is yet to be determined.

    Behind every strong stadium is a strong woman

    To date, the voices of informal traders, primarily female, have been all but ignored. On May 3rd, 2010 Gender Links, in partnership with ESSET and NCRF, hosted a seminar to discuss the role of community radio in "giving voice to the voiceless" during the World Cup.

    During the event, an informal trader, Cecilia Dube, mentioned her role in 2010. She felt that like the construction workers who have built Soccer City, she too has had her hand in the construction. She spoke of all the female informal traders who have fed and nourished the workers who toil day in and day out. Her reasoning was mathematical.

    The closest store to the stadium is a fifteen-minute walk from the construction site. By selling right next to the site, she helped FIFA with time management. If one construction worker saves thirty minutes each day during his lunch hour, multiplied by hundreds of workers and hundreds of days, it equals thousands of hours of saved people power.

    Another point made by informal traders has been on the myth that their food is unclean. They buy their meat and produce fresh every day and it is never frozen and reheated, unlike fast food. These women, who are often caretakers and mothers, cannot understand why their services are considered risky.

    Recently, FIFA granted tickets to the construction workers who built the stadiums, but not informal traders, and therefore, not women. Aside from the fact that women also want to see the games, this gesture is offensive to this marginalised group. It is as if their work is inconsequential, when they regard themselves as part of the backbone of the stadium.

    A woman held a sign scribbled on cardboard that read, ‘Will my children eat soccer balls?' This is an astute observation, grotesque, but true. Women who depend on the income of trading, who are less likely to obtain bank loans, and who require flexible working hours and the ability to nurse their children could very well suffer the most.

    Wide open spaces

    Across the street from Soccer City is an empty field. In fact, next to the various entrances of the stadium are plenty of spaces to accommodate informal traders. There is yet no valid explanation as to why FIFA will not allow them to be present, to chance their business ventures, and then let the public decide.

    Informal traders have carved away a niche for themselves as entrepreneurs, and they had hoped that the World Cup would give them the leverage to begin setting up more "formal" establishments. Counting down seven days from the day of the protest, 12 May, traders are focused on this expiration date, which may mark the final blow to their dreams.

    - Jennifer Elle Lewis is the Manager of the Gender and Media Diversity Centre. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service. It is republished here with the permission of Gender Links.
    Jennifer Elle Lewis
  • Informal Traders Protest Against Evictions

    Hawkers protested outside the South African Football Association offices in Soweto, saying they are struggling to survive after being evicted from Soccer City.

    "Now that they have moved me away, I don't know what I am going to do. Where do I go?" asked Moffat Sebolelo, a 48 year old who has been trading at the Stadium for 20 years.

    Informal traders from around Gauteng complain that they are being excluded from benefiting from the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.

    To read the article titled, “Soccer City hawkers protest,” click here.
  • Very Small is Beautiful for the Majority of Our People

    Survivalist entrepreneurship continues to be discounted in South Africa in favour of small to medium employment creating businesses. In our quest to focus exclusively on the employment creating potential and economic growth contribution of the more formal and growth oriented small business sector, we ignore at our cost, and at our nation building peril, the fantastic resource and value of micro and survivalist businesses. Whilst such entrepreneurs are a response to desperate  circumstances, they nonetheless have phenomenal social and economic value which is so often overlooked in their role as Useful start up economic endeavours and sources of work (as opposed to idling about and unemployment)

    • A cradle of human capital formation
    • A key entry level point for attaining work and business experience
    • An opportunity to access the mainstream economy
    The informal sector was 'discovered' in the 1970s when Keith Hart first used the term. This was then quickly embraced by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). This view largely saw the informal sector as "Covering marginal livelihoods and survival activity outside the regulatory reach of state and not yet able to be absorbed by industry.” The sector has in fact always been seen as transitory and a temporary safety net for the unemployed and marginalised. Yet it has persisted, refused to decline or disappear and has in fact often increased in different parts of the globe. Its contribution to national economies has been significant and in many developing countries it employs the majority of workers and offers increasing employment when the potential of other sectors to create jobs is declining.

    Let’s talk livelihoods rather than jobs...

    Perhaps we should talk about livelihoods, rather than jobs and employment, to see the incredible value of survivalist micro entrepreneurs. Individuals are working and generating income for themselves and their families at a subsistence or survival level, even if they are not creating work for others. And quite often they do that as well. Just imagine the growth in grant pay-outs and in unemployment if people were not creating their own work. The idea of livelihoods rather than jobs is such a useful mindset shift, just by changing the words we use when we talk about the sector.

    The livelihoods concept affords the majority population a respectable space to work in to get on to the ladder of self improvement and income generation which can lead to other and better things over time. Isn’t this what we mean when we talk about a ‘developmental economy’?

    ‘My greatest challenge has been to change the mindset of people. Mindsets play strange tricks on us. We see things the way our minds have instructed our eyes to see’.
    (Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank)

    A Gateway to the Future...........

    What is so often overlooked is that micro or survivalist entrepreneurship is very often the gateway to so many other possibilities and opportunities in
    • Further education
    • Formal employment
    • Larger and more lucrative business establishment
    There are many real life stories of this happening. A couple of stories from the writer’s experience are

    ........The owner of an informal settlement day care centre who after receiving some mentoring support registered for a formal qualification in early childhood development...........

    ........A micro trader who did some basic and advanced training in business skills and is now registered for a BCom degree. He is currently in his second year.......
    ........An informal settlement hairdresser who after receiving some sound business advice now owns and manages a chain of informal hairdressers in different townships..........................

    ....... A trader who took a skills training course in motor vehicle air conditioning and went on to secure formal employment.......

    .....We have created a society that does not allow opportunities for people to take care of themselves because we have denied them those opportunities.
    (Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank)

    Reductionist Thinking.......

    The trick is not to see survivalist entrepreneurship in terms of direct cause and effect thinking but rather as part of a developmental continuum and process. It may take several or many failures, repetitions, and simply trying again, before the potential for success and growth develops as a possibility at this level and takes off. It might take deviations and changing paths quite often. The survivalist sector is not a straight cause and effect line of action to result, ie. start-up to economic and social impact. That is why we discount its value and potential to contribute to our growth and development as a nation. We must start to think more systemically and holistically, however, and exercise our creativity and patience, to understand that the value of this sector needs to be seen within a longer-term and much more dynamic framework.

    A Sleeping, Awakening, or Roaring Giant?

    We should take heed of current statistical evidence of this emerging economic power house in our midst. There is indeed potential at the bottom of the pyramid.
    We can even begin to see the so-called second economy of our country as ‘a first economy in waiting’...... here are some statistics to boggle your mind:
    • The informal retail sector in South Africa is increasingly acknowledged by manufacturers and wholesalers as an important delivery channel of goods to consumers. A report compiled by Prof André Ligthelm of the Bureau of Market Research (BMR) of Unisa and published a couple of years ago on the characteristics of the informal retail sector, estimated the share of the informal trade sector at already R32 billion in 2002. This represented approximately 10% of retail trade sales in South Africa.
    • In contrast with the often expressed idea that the informal and formal sector operate as two separate ‘economies’ with limited linkages, the study found considerable linkages between the two sectors.
    • Linkages are manifested in various ways through, inter alia, increased product delivery to informal retailers, promotion sales available to them and even the availability of supplier credit to especially township general dealers.
    • In various reports issued by the City of Johannesburg, the council has estimated the number of informal traders in Greater Johannesburg alone at some 85 000. The council views informal traders in two ways – as an economic opportunity and as an opportunity for people to make a livelihood.
    • According to the Traders Crisis Committee, there are more than two million informal traders in the country who, through their income obtained from trading, sustain the lives of some 10 million people.
    • A report from a conference on the informal economy held in Ethekwini in November 2006 had this to say:
    • Key facts about the informal sector and economy are:
    Although individual earnings in the sector are low, overall its contribution to GDP (currently 8-12 percent) continues to grow;
    25-30 percent of the labour-force works in the informal economy;
    The informal sector is one of the few areas of the economy where numbers of workers continues to increase;
    The vast majority of workers in the sector are from historically disadvantaged communities

    • During the recent economic downturn that bit deep last year, it was the informal sector that created work for people............................
    International Approaches........

    Rapidly developing nations such as India, Brazil and China take the micro enterprise sector very seriously indeed. It is a major part of their economies and is estimated to be the key success factor for the rapid growth of the Chinese economy currently.

    It has been estimated that about 93 percent of total employment in India is constituted by the informal sector. The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector was constituted in 2004 in India to look into the problems, challenges and potential of the sector.

    In Brazil, 40 percent of the national economy is accounted for by the informal economy and 60 percent of the workforce. Brazil has a Micro and Small Business Council as part its National Confederation of Industry.

    China's economy continues to thrive despite an absence of sound financial and legal systems. This is largely due to the country's dependence on ‘informal' structures and the growth of entrepreneurship in the region. This is according to report published in 2002, an extract is produced below.

    'Informal' entrepreneurship is the key to China's Success

    (19 Aug 2002. Source: Knowledge Wharton).
    China is turning conventional business wisdom on its head. Business scholars in recent years have argued that sound financial and legal systems are vital to economic growth. China lacks all of the above, but the country's economy is growing like gangbusters - averaging 8.35 per cent expansion for most of the 1990s.

    ‘There's this paradox that China has been doing extremely well,' said Wharton finance professor Franklin Allen, who has studied the issue with Jun Qian, a former Wharton PhD. student and now a professor at Boston College, and Meijun Qian, a Boston College graduate student. At a conference on ‘The Future of Chinese Management' held April 22, 2002, at the Wharton West campus in San Francisco, Allen and his colleagues proposed an answer to the Chinese economic puzzle: The key to the country's success lies in its fast-growing ‘informal' sector.

    Allen, Qian and Qian define this sector as all firms not controlled by the government or publicly traded. They say this swath of the economy relies on factors such as cultural norms and economic competition to promote good corporate governance, and depends more on bonds of trust and reputation for financing rather than traditional Western sources of capital.
    ‘It's not so much the banks and the stock market that are important, it's the informal sector that's driving China's growth'

    .....................So, what do we need to think about and do here in South Africa?

    Firstly we need to ask the question what is the problem here in South Africa with accepting the survivalist sector as part of our economy?

    The writer’s answer to this question is that our general way of business life is hugely influenced by a mentality of materialism, ‘up market’ approaches to business, a profit above all mentality, and ‘the bigger the business the better’ thinking – it drives business in our country and our people at all levels.

    Prevailing values of accumulating large amounts of money quickly, a get rich quick and ego driven mentality, personal enrichment before all else, image and status, all overshadow more relevant approaches for the majority population in our country of thinking small, thinking inclusion, thinking caring and sharing, in order to build a sustainable nation over the longer term.

    Examples of what we need to do are:
    1. We need to stop discounting the survivalist sector
    2. We need to stop seeing this economic sector as peripheral and marginalised
    3. We need to stop treating it as a ‘CSI case’ and a ‘poor cousin’;
    4. We really do need to accept that we are a developing country and work more with the requirements of a developmental economy and its realities of poverty and marginalisation, as well as with the survival and coping strategies of poor people living on the fringes.
    5. We need to acknowledge and accept that we have a survivalist economic sector that is not temporary and that we should be working with it and acknowledging its phenomenal value and the significant economic contribution it makes to the country
    6. We need to build supplier and value chains that are more inclusive and diverse, creating links between developed and developing businesses as a national priority
    7. We need to make micro-credit available on a broad scale – we even need to think about establishing peoples’ banks– banks that have a primarily social rather than a profit purpose. (Muhammad Yunus who won a Nobel prize in 2006 for championing tiny microcredit loans to the poor in Bangladesh, is now pioneering this idea which he calls "social business" as a way to fight poverty - business not for profit, but to solve social problems).

    - Jan Beeton is an Independent Development Sector Consultant specialising in micro enterprise development. She has run her own consultancy, QED Development Consulting CC, for the past 10 years. Jan has a long work history in micro business development education, training and mentoring all over the country in both urban and rural areas. You can find her website at:
    Jan Beeton
  • Informal Trader’s Dreams Shattered

    Informal traders' hopes of making huge profits during the upcoming World Cup tourist influx were shattered when they were ordered to vacate Park Station, a key transit hub in Johannesburg's central business district. Ironically, the incident occurred during South Africa's Human Rights Day celebrations; the day South Africa remembers 69 victims from Sharpeville who died during the protest against pass laws.

    Mamusa Musa is one of the traders dislodged during the eviction. Musa says that from that day the lives of herself and fellow traders have been an uphill battle. Unlike at Park Station where different travellers pass through hourly making purchases for their journey, the small shack she occupies now is not very profitable. Musa says she struggles to collect R100 a day, meagre earnings for someone trying to put food on the table for 13 members of her family.

    "We could not believe our lack of fortune, when on 21 March we were told to vacate the place where we have been selling for many years," says Musa. "We agree that renovations are important, this is what we were told was the reason for our eviction. But the conditions offered to us when we can come back in May is nothing but a polite way of saying never come back."

    Thembela Njenga, Programmes Manager at the Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET) in Johannesburg, witnessed the misery that the informal settlers faced during their eviction. Njenga says that it is unfortunate that informal traders will no longer enjoy the coming of the soccer games. "For them, this has brought them sorrow, their business are going to collapse. This shows that the World Cup is not for the empowerment of people at grassroots level," argues Njenga. "They regard their poor people as a shame who need to be hidden away from the sight of the visitors."

    Addressing a gathering during the first Southern Africa Local Government and Gender Justice Summit and Awards held in Johannesburg from 22-24 March, Njenga said that the 28 informal traders were asked to pay a rent of R1 700 a month when they return in May, together with an advancement of two months rent.

    The expected rental amount came as a shock to the traders, some cannot even dream of raising that amount of money over a year, let alone in time for the May occupancy. According to Njenga, this sum is impossible for an informal trader to raise; it was just a diplomatic way of getting rid of them. Njenga noted the irony that this happened on the same day that South Africa was celebrating people’s human rights.

    Initially, the 28 informal traders at Park Station received a letter notifying them that they must leave their spots due to renovations ahead of the World Cup mega-event. They could come back in May 2010. The actual eviction then took place on 21 March.

    This is not the first instance of removing informal traders from locations where they have traded for years as the World Cup draws near. Njenga said that the same has occurred in Cape Town. In at least some cases the government built shelters for them where they can sell, but this has also negatively affected their business, as it is not a busy place.

    For the traders, who are mostly women breadwinners of families, this means their livelihoods have literally been pulled form underneath them. Rather than supporting such marginalised people from making the most of the event, they have been further impoverished and embarrassed.

    Njenga explained that informal traders are very clear on what they want; many want to remain informal. Informal trade makes up a huge percentage of the nation's economy. However, despite this, when by-laws are made, the views of informal traders are ignored.

    The story of eviction of street vendors during Summits or other ‘important’ events when countries are expecting visitors has become normal in Southern African countries, but does this mean that for a city to look clean poor people must be pushed to the fringes? Or is this just hypocrisy of our government trying to appear smarter than they are?

    How can street vendors or people selling in our towns make a city dirty? We pass them every day, and most of us make purchases from them all the time, so how can it be that we suddenly decide that they are ‘undesirable’?

    There has been so much concern about crime, has it not occurred to anyone that taking away someone's source of income may push them to do something they would never otherwise consider? At least these traders are not stealing, and are doing honest hard work to put bread on the table.

    - Libuseng Nyaka works for Public Eye News. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service. It is republished here with the permission of Gender Links, a NGO committed to a Southern Africa in which women and men are able to participate equally in all aspects of public and private life.

    Related Links:
    - Informal Traders March to the Gauteng Premier
    - JHB Informal Traders to Benefit from WC

  • JHB Informal Traders to Benefit from WC

    Informal traders within the City of Johannesburg stand to score big during the 2010 FIFA World Cup if they adhere to the international soccer body's by-laws.

    In a press statement, the city’s spokesperson, Sibongile Mazibuko, says that, "Though trading will not be permitted in exclusion zones around the stadiums on match days, new opportunities are being created for traders to benefit from being situated in high-fan traffic areas."

    Mazibuko has advised informal traders to join programmes designed by the Department of Economic Development (DED) to help coach them through the tournament.

    To read the article titled, “Johannesburg’s informal traders to score on WC,” click here.
  • Helping informal traders to help themselves

    South Africa’s poor have headed government’s call to do it for themselves in the spirit of vukuzenzele. To millions of people affected by poverty and unemployment, the most obvious option to ‘do it for yourself’ is to start small business initiatives such as selling fruits and vegetables, clothes, fast food at a street corner, and operating ‘spaza’ shops.

    For them, starting their own businesses is the only way to ensure that they participate meaningfully in the informal economy, provide for their families and create jobs to the unemployable. However, government is seen as not doing much to help informal traders to help themselves.

    In the City of Johannesburg (CoJ), the city’s Trading Policy defines informal trading as the ‘sale of goods by individuals and or groups in locations designated for informal trading’. However, Johannesburg-based informal traders continue to clash with the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) and the Metropolitan Trading Company (MTC). The JPMD and MTC accuse informal traders of trading illegally instead of going through the latter to be allocated a space to sell from. MTC is a CoJ-owned entity, tasked with the responsibility of regulating trade and transport facilities within the city.

    The JPMD and MTC blame the so-called ‘illegal’ informal traders for trading in locations were trading is prohibited within the city. Unlike those who operate at locations designated for informal trading by the city, informal traders who sell illegally within the city often suffer as JMPD officials confiscate their goods.

    Many informal traders feel that the CoJ should step up its efforts to ensure that all informal traders enjoy their constitutional right to practice trade of their choice. They argue that failure to do so will leave them with no means to generate income to sustain their families.

    Other informal traders are of the view that the CoJ should invest resources into growing the informal trading sector rather than focusing only on income-generation projects. To them, growing the informal trading sector can help poor people to sustain their business initiatives and make the sector more sustainable.

    Only a few informal traders have been provided with locations designated for informal trading. However, many informal traders fear that relocating them to areas that are not accessible to most of their customers will limit their ability to make profit.

    Just like informal traders who operate legally within the city, illegal traders’ biggest wish is to be moved to designated locations that are close to taxi ranks where most of their potential customers can reach them. However, it is important that the CoJ, through the MTC and JMPD, consult with informal traders and organisations that represent their interests, when taking decisions that affect informal traders.

    In the same vein, Orange Farm-based informal traders criticise the MTC for attempting to relocate them from where they are currently selling from. They claim that the MTC argues that the reason for the relocation is that their current location falls under a property sold to developers by the city.

    “We are generating a lot of money and they want to move us. They want to move us to a place that only has 30 stalls. What about the other informal traders,” explains Nomvula Mkhwanazi, one of the 70 traders who feel that moving them will marginalise their businesses.

    Her view is reiterated by the spokesperson for the Orange Farm Hawkers Association (OFHA), Mxolisi Sibeko, who argues that the MTC should stop viewing relocating informal traders as the only means to deal with the problems they face. Sibeko calls for the establishment of a task team that will represent the interests of informal traders. He argues that: “The MTC is doing its job but in a wrong way. It should not take decisions for us without consulting us.”

    On the other hand, concerned customers such as Thabiso Mahlangu, believes that relocating informal traders to places that are ‘out of reach’ will make it difficult to continue buying from them.

    Zodwa Khumulo, a domestic worker in the central business district (CBD), has been buying lunch from informal traders for the past four years. Khumalo prefers buying lunch from informal traders because the food is affordable and of high quality. Just like Mahlangu, Khumalo is against the relocation because regular customers will no longer receive the services that they are accustomed to.

    “It’s unfair for us as customers,” says Khumalo.

    Another association representing the informal traders, Concerned Hawkers and Traders Association (CHATA), slams the city’s bylaws for being unconstitutional and for violating the informal trader’s right to trade. CHATA deputy chairperson, Mischka Cassiem, says that a framework should be established in which both government and informal traders can engage and deliberate on issues affecting the informal trading sector. In addition, she is of the view that government should create a platform for the informal sector in Parliament.

    “Nobody is looking after informal traders,” she argues.

    General problems faced by informal traders

    The Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET) is also blaming the CoJ by-laws for marginalising informal traders. ESSET argues that the city’s by-laws fail to take into account that most informal traders are poor and illiterate. ESSET communication and information coordinator, Thabo Koole, argues that, “Bylaws are imposed and there was never any engagement with hawkers. They are also written in English.”

    Informal traders from Greater Kliptown and Sisulu Square Informal Traders Association (KSIA) has also voiced their concerns about how the MTC is treating informal traders. KSIA spokesperson, Sam Takara, accuses the MTC of relocating informal traders to designated locations that are not complete. Takara challenges the MTC to stop the relocation until such areas are complete.

    Responding to the concerns raised, MTC chief executive officer, Alfred Sam, has expressed willingness to engage informal traders and other roleplayers on issues and problems affecting them, including the allocation of stalls in demarcated trading areas. According to him, preference will be given to informal traders who meet the requirements set by the MTC when allocating space to informal traders.
    On a positive note, informal traders realise the need to be empowered to better run their businesses.

    Tau Qwelane, an informal trader who has been selling goods at Johannesburg’s Noord Street since 2001, thanks the MTC and the University of the Witwatersrand, for partnering to provide them [informal traders] with basic business skills. Qwelane argues that, “The MTC has done enough to upgrade my business skills.”

    In the same vein, Xolani Nxumalo, deputy director for the CoJ’s department of economic development, says that, “Basic business skills are being taught to informal traders, equipping them with the means to grow their businesses.”

    Participants are provided with food packs and transport allowances during the training. However, University of the Witwatersrand’s Johan Swanepoel notes that, “Illiteracy continues to undermine this initiative.”

    In conclusion, with the 2010 FIFA World Cup coming to South Africa, the majority of informal traders fear they might be prevented from doing business close to the stadiums as FIFA insists that the venues should have ‘smart surroundings’. As the country’s municipalities gear up for clean-up initiatives in preparation for the event, the fear is that municipalities will target informal traders. This will further violate their right to practice trade of their choice and heed government’s call to act in the spirit of vukuzenzele and lift themselves out of poverty.

    - Isaac Mnguni is an International Human Rights Exchange Programme intern at SANGONeT.
    Isaac Mnguni
Syndicate content