Informal traders decry lockdown, looting and lack of support from the City of Joburg

Busi Sithole (45) says that the looting of the malls in Gauteng has affected her business since many of her customers were people employed in and around the mall.

Workers in the Informal economy of Johannesburg say that the City has made things hard for them during lockdown.

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a lot of uncertainty for street traders. Their livelihoods have been turned upside down and devastated by the pandemic. Since last year the national coronavirus command council has eased up on the restrictions implemented to mitigate the pandemic. Even so, migrant street traders in the economic hub of the country are saying the effects are still being felt. 

Some have had their kids leave school because of affordability, others have opted to stop operating. 

Informal traders in Johannesburg complain about government’s ignorant attempts to control the spread of the coronavirus. Busi Sithole, 45, a mother of three originally from KwaNongoma in KwaZulu-Natal, said her life and that of her children has been dramatically impacted. She has a stall in Dobsonville, Soweto. “I am a mother of four kids, I have to pay rent and I am also supporting my younger siblings back home in KZN. I have also been struggling with the school fees for my older child. I am the only one working at the moment, so this is all on my shoulders, I truly feel hopeless at the situation,” said Sithole.

She also says the recent looting and plundering of malls around Johannesburg has greatly affected her business, since many of her customers were people employed in and around the mall. 

A Zimbabwean migrant and informal trader, Prudence Moyo, sells nik-naks, sweets, fruit and cigarettes near the Bree taxi rank in Johannesburg. “In a decent week, I would normally make R600. My kids are staying at home with the rest of the family. Every month I send R900 depending on how the business has done. These lockdown regulations have been really tough on us, so I can’t even get close to the money I used to send home,” she said. 

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Without a work permit, she was unable to benefit from government relief funding. “I came here for a better life and means to survive, but since last year it has been very bad for us. I even rely on the goodness of my neighbours to survive some days,” said Moyo. 

According to the lobby group, Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising (WIEGO), the lockdown regulations have had a negative  impact on the rights of traders, especially women traders.

Some of the challenges faced by these traders include constant harassment from the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) which has intensified over the course of the lockdown. Admire Nzima is from Mozambique and has had a stall in the Johannesburg CBD, on Jeppe Street, since 2017. He has been a victim of having his stock confiscated by metro police officers.

“I worry about my kids a lot and what are they going to eat. Before the lockdown last year, I could provide for them at least. We are so concerned that the government has not consulted us as traders to understand how the lockdown and its regulations affected our livelihoods,” said Nzima.

“I am normally here my brother, from Monday to Saturday. Between 06:30 am until 6pm in the evening. I stay away only during windy or rainy days because I have no shelter, and this is an unfriendly environment. The JMPD bakkie once came and looted almost everything from my stall. I managed to escape with some items, but it is painful trading here,” he added. 

Johannesburg Informal Traders Platform chairperson, Lulama Mali, says since last year’s lockdown things have become worse. And they feel oppressed by the City. “Ngenxa yeNceba kaThixo asilali singatyanga [Because of God’s grace we never sleep without having food]. The Gauteng government consistently fails traders, not just migrants but all of us feel like we have been failed,” said Mali.  

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According to Mali, the City of Johannesburg’s actions and ways of doing things – including policing, harassment of traders for permits and the confiscation of their goods – reveals an indecisive, if not actively aggressive, approach to vendors. She added that the City regulates and issues permits for street traders in public spaces. But getting the paperwork done is a lengthy and delayed process with heavy dues and formalities to be followed. 

City of Johannesburg spokesperson, Nthatisi Modingoane said, “The City issued temporal trading permits to 14,543 traders who are selling fruit and vegetables only and spaza shops. The City also facilitated the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller relief fund to 120 cooking traders in City of Johannesburg facilities. Migrant traders who are in the country legally and had valid working permits were granted temporary permits.”

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About Chris Gilili 70 Articles
Chris Gilili, a 23 year old freelance journalist based in East London. Graduated from Walter Sisulu University media studies school in 2015. Had a stint with Independent Media, in sports writing. Passionate about news and the media.