As South Africans entered its 21-day national lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, there remains uncertainty around whether spaza shops and corner stores are considered essential services to the public. The Government Gazette, which outlines the regulations during the lockdown, states that spaza shops that sell essential products will remain open during this time. However, it has not outlined any limitations for which spaza shops may remain operational. Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel reiterated this during an inter-ministerial briefing on Friday night, saying spaza shops can trade only essential goods and must ensure social distancing.
But in Cape Town, it seems that many spaza shops have been curbed from trading. Elsies River community activists Imraahn Mukaddam reported that it has been chaos there as authorities have closed many spaza shops during the first two days of the lockdown. He and other local activists have been trying to assist shop owners to reopen their stores. It’s believed that one spaza shop owner was arrested on Saturday morning and others have been threatened with fines of R2500.
“Police and Law enforcement agencies are blatantly defying the Presidential decree that spaza and corner shops are essential service providers and are a means of keeping people away from malls and bigger stores. The call to close spaza shops was irresponsible. The mandate of the police, as well as local law enforcement agencies, remains primarily to address all instances where open defiance of the lockdown regulations is demonstrated. To use the spaza shop closure as a form of collective punishment for communities who refuse to comply is extremely shortsighted,” said Mukkadam,
“The police have enormous powers during these dangerous times, but they have an even greater responsibility to ensure all possible circumstances where the virus may spread is eliminated. What we saw today is exactly how the contagion in Italy spiralled out of control, a total failure by state agencies to comprehend the severity of the threat.”
Mukkadam said the impact that closing of spaza shops has on communities is potentially the single most contributory factor to the collective failure to contain the virus.
“Diverting business away from the townships to the shopping malls is catastrophic and serves only the interest of corporates who are experiencing bumper COVID 19 related spikes in turnover. The long queues outside malls and corporate retailers are the death traps that the lockdown process seeks to contain.”
Spaza shops and corner shops must adhere to COVID 19 regulations, he urged.
He also expressed concern around misinformation that only locally owned spaza shops could trade during this time.
“The blatant advocating of xenophobia in terms of the approach that only locally owned shops and spazas may open was enforced resulting in even more confusion and instability. What is required is that all instances where people congregate be addressed and that social distancing be enforced.”
City of Cape Town Mayco Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith, said he was not aware of any spaza shops being closed. He said law enforcement officials were trained to understand government’s lockdown regulations and its enforcement thereof.
He said any complaints can be directed to his department.