The plight of informal street traders

| Barbara Maregele and Adam Armstrong
City officers impounding naartjies sold by two street vendors at the intersection of Belmont and Main Road in Rondebosch. Photo by Adam Armstrong.

Last week, GroundUp witnessed law enforcement officers confiscating the fruit of two street vendors on the corners of Belmont and Main Road, Rondebosch. They are among thousands of informal vendors breaking city bylaws to sell their goods at traffic lights and intersections across the City in order to make their daily living.

For two informal traders from Brooklyn, selling naartjies at a busy intersection in Rondebosch was not only a means of income, but also a way to reform from a life of crime.

While the National Roads Traffic Act prohibits vendors from trading on the roads, the Constitution makes provision for the City to allow regulated informal traders at intersections.

However, the City’s Informal Trading By-law of 2009 clearly restricts vendors from obstructing sidewalks and creating traffic hazards.

The vendors, who later identified themselves as Alex and Sean from Brooklyn, appeared accustomed to the process and without much protest handed all their stock worth nearly R300 to the officers.

They were issued with a R500 fine.

“I sell naartjies to stop living on the streets. Everything I was meant to sell is gone now. I used to rob people while living on the streets,” said Alex, “but now I’m trying to change my life.”

Alex said it was still not clear how he would pay for the goods.

“We work for someone else. The boss gets R10 and I get R10 from what we sell. They took all our stuff, I don’t know what we are going to do because we sleep on the streets,” he said.

Alex and Sean said it was likely they would return to the same spot to sell fruit soon.

The City’s Mayco member for Safety and Security JP Smith said he was often subjected to hundreds of “belligerent” calls from people complaining about traders at intersections.

“Enforcement officials are very under-resourced. Trading at intersections generates hundreds of complaints and I am frequently subjected to vitriolic and belligerent calls and complaints from residents about how their road safety was placed at risk and how a smash-and-grab criminal was able approach cars by using the presence of traders as a cover up,” he said.

According to the City’s by-law, goods impounded from traders will be returned once the person completes documentation and pays an impound fee. The City may also hold the goods for a 30-day period after payment of the fine or impound fee.

It also states that perishable goods, like food, can be sold or disposed of by City officials.

StreetNet International coordinator Pat Horn said street traders were not always aware of their rights.

“In many cases, the officers confiscating goods feel free to grab the traders and their goods, sometimes destroying it. This has been a controversial subject because the removal of people’s property is also protected by Constitutional laws.This is people’s livelihoods and they struggle to make a living as their stock is the only form of income for their families,” she said.

StreetNet is a non-profit international federation consisting of 52 organisations of informal street vendors and hawkers in 46 countries with 588,709 members.

Horn said in order to prevent further incidents, it was important for informal traders to report criminal acts by officers.

“We have also received information that goods are sold illegally by these officers. Informal traders being manhandled by officers happens all the time. It is important for these cases to be reported because the more officers are held accountable for their actions, the less likely they are to commit illegal acts,” she said.

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