By Tauhierah Salie
The City of Cape Town’s targeting of informal traders is once again in the spotlight. The South African Informal Traders Alliance (SAITA) has called on the City to collectively work toward resolving issues related to trading permits- and treat hawkers in a dignified manner.
It follows an incident in Gatesville on Saturday, whereby the goods of four illegal traders were impounded, at least 15 traders fined and a woman arrested for damaging City property with an iron bar and bricks.
Fines were issued for ignoring compliance for previously served notices, not having any trading permits and for trading at bus benches. Video footage of the incident went viral, where law enforcement is depicted confiscating the goods of irate informal traders.
SAITA National Director Paul Bester explained that the weekend’s clashes came despite a ruling handed down in the Blue Downs Magistrate court, that the City had previously acted against National directives exempting traders from requiring permits. Bester cited the case of Kuils River informal trader Ettienne Gideons, against whom all charges were dropped in March. The City issued him with a fine on January 14 for having an expired trader’s permit.
In August last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa relaxed traders’ payment requirements until the end of 2022. Former Minister of Small Business Development Khumbudzo Tshaveni published a directive relieving all informal traders with expired permits or those who began trading and were unable to apply for due to lockdown regulations.
At the time, Bester labelled the ruling a victory for all traders, expressing hope that it would act as a “strong warning to the City of Cape Town officials and all municipalities across the country,” that the permit waiver is valid and that the presidential directive overrides local by-laws.
According to the City’s mayco member for Safety and Security, JP Smith, however, the recent relaxation of the remaining Covid-19 restrictions also applied to the relief granted to traders, and permits are once again a legal requirement.
Informal traders have however continuously cited harassment and abuse of power by local officials. Smith told VOC that the City was acting on complaints by permit-holding traders and formal businesses, related to hawkers illegally obstructing their operations.
“We were very much doing what the residents ask us constantly for (…) complaint received regularly- both from the legal traders that say they are paying for a permit, and that their pirate traders who come and set up who are not paying. Also, from people who complain that some traders obstruct the sidewalk- including formal businesses, who pack up their goods on the sidewalk,” he said.
Bester said that SAITA’s intervention this weekend landed in the mayor’s office, where an emergency meeting was scheduled alongside the offices of Mayco member for Economic Opportunities James Vos and Smith on Monday. Bester emphasized that he does not seek to politicize the matter.
“That’s the issue we have here: one department- Economic Development- makes a ruling that there’s no permit cost and another department- which is Safety and Security- isn’t aware of this. We as SAITA had to intervene and (it) went as far as the office of the mayor between the three departments to resolve this issue.”
“It seems to me that certain people are more equal to the law than others. This would not happen in certain areas in Cape Town but it happens in another area, the more poorer communities. It leaves a sour taste in the mouth- like who do you really serve? All the people or just some of the people?” he questioned.
Smith however insisted that officials were acting within the confines of the law.
“Informal trading is something the City strongly supports. We have made a huge number of informal trading bay across the city available. We have invested (and made a number of concessions) in supporting informal trading in variety of ways during covid. With the end of the covid period, those opportunities and provisions don’t apply any further- people are required to have a permit.”
“’As with cities elsewhere in the world, informal traders are required to have a trading permit in a public place and law enforcement are required to check they have the necessary permit and are trading in the conditions on that permit,” Smith stated.
Bester said that acts of intimidation are a daily occurrence. He said although the City would “vehemently” deny it, the pushing of a 70 year old woman to confiscate her goods is a form of gender based violence and will not be tolerated. He warned that the City will face legal action if the outcome does not result in a positive resolution.
“We will be guided by the outcome of what the mayor says. If the mayor says he is going to withdraw the fines, give back the property and instruct the departments to brush up their knowledge of the law and the regulations, then that’s good. Anything else would need us to seek legal intervention, speak to our lawyers and see how we will address this.”
“The City needs to understand also that you are working with people- old people and females- and there are certain rules and regulations that govern that also. We will use every law available and able to (be) used,” he added.
Smith however criticized the ‘abuse’ suffered by officers, whom he said are being wrongly targeted. According to the Mayco member, it is the department responsible for issuing trading permits, that needs to bear the brunt of residents’ frustration. He said that video footage is often filmed ‘from a certain point’ and is regularly interpreted out of context.
“People are saying ‘I can’t get a trading permit’, the person who should be interviewed is the person in charge of the informal trading unit or who issues those permits. It is a constant source of frustration for me that in various circumstances law enforcement is attacked and blamed or people are rude and abuse toward them when they are doing their jobs.”
“In fact, the person you are angry with is those who are not issuing those permits. Ask, if these traders were legitimately entitled to permits, why didn’t they have a permit? Either they didn’t apply, or they applied and they weren’t issued the permit- in that case, that department is the problem,” said Smith.
SAITA President Rosheda Muller condemned the actions of police on Saturday:
“It is so sad that we are continuously getting harassment and inhumane manner in which law enforcement operates. Does law enforcement not understand that they’re dealing with human beings with rights? An informal trader is not on the street by desire, an informal trader is on the street because of desperation and need to bring an income.”
Muller emphasized that traders deserve “administrative justice” and demanded constructive engagement with all relevant parties.
“There are too many harsh and hard rules- too much bureaucracy, red tape that is undermining us as informal traders. Bottom line: if this is a City who care, a City who cares for us? Let’s work together to ensure that there’s no poverty, no unemployment and the biggest way to do that is through the informal sector,” said Muller.