The number of coronavirus infections continues to rise, so has global uncertainty over safety and security. Global markets have plummeted, and economies have hit an all-time low. Not only have big companies been feeling the pinch, but informal traders are now beginning to face challengers of their own.
Several precautionary measures were announced this week after President Cyril Ramphosa’s declaration of a state of disaster on Sunday. By Thursday morning, the number of infected patients stood at 116, 31 of which were in the Western Cape.
The provinces economic hub, Cape Town, has a plethora of long-standing businesses and is well known for its flea markets. Among these is the flea market at Sunrise beach in Muizenberg, another near Greenpoint stadium and another at the Grand Parade in the Cape Town CBD. There, you can purchase anything from clothing and accessories to kitchen utensils and car parts- at a price that fits the pocket of struggling South Africans.
To prevent the spread of the virus, Ramaphosa announced heightened precautionary measures that all South Africans need to adhere to. The one that poses a particular threat to all informal traders: is the ban on gatherings exceeding 100 people. Given the informal nature of their businesses, traders often gather in their dozens in close proximity and attract hundreds of customers of all ethnicities.
Chairman of Sunrise Flea Market Association Yusuf Adams explained that after engaging with the City of Cape Town, it was decided that trading will cease on Sunday 22 March 2020.
“It is a situation that everyone has to be cautious of. I ask all traders at Muizenberg flea market and other flea markets to work with this thing, In Shaa Allah.”
“If I take our market there are a lot of elderly people and that was our great concern . the other thing is, is that people must decide wherever they want to trade where its permissible for them to trade- we cant tell them where to go and what to do,” he added.
The greatest concern is over the livelihood of traders.
“The income is going to be very hard hit for everyone, we know people are living one Sunday to the next Sunday for an income. At the end of the day, it is there decision,” said Adams.
Interim chairperson President S.A. Informal Traders Alliance (SAITA) Rosheda Muller said traders were “concerned and confused” about what to do. Muller said traders are disappointed that government haven’t stepped up to provide alternatives.
“The primary goal SAITA is to assist and develop marginalized and vulnerable workers. This virus and its effects works contrary to that goal: we are extremely concern as its creating quite a hype with traders,” said Muller.
“The City walked about on the Grand Parade yesterday (Wednesday) and spoke to the leasdership telling us ‘what is your plan, what do you suggest?’ In a pandemic of this nature, we would expect that government take control of the situation and put measures in place where there are alternatives,” exclaimed Muller.
“If people stay at home, what’s going to happen to the bread and butter issue? If we look at the world the only way its successful is if there’s a total lock down. But look at the effects! There has to be some kind of rationing, some form of grants or feeding system to sustain our people,” she said.
On Green Market square and the Grand Parade, traders were told to reduce the number of stalls from around 300 to no more than 60. However, this remains problematic as traders rely on their sales for income.
“Our local government is not coming to the fore, except to say that we must be spaced out. What if we are spaced out but people don’t come because of the fear?” questioned Muller.
“There are traders who cannot stop trading, they have to take strict hygienic precautions whilst they trade. for others who can manage the best thing is to stay home.”
Although Muller said ‘starter packs’ were given to traders, the economic and social impact exceeds their efforts. The pack included a mask, pairs of gloves and sanitizer. Muller emphasised that “it is a crisis and drastic steps have to be taken.”