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PAIA, 2000 (Act 2 of 2000) 

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The rise and rise of hawking in the city
11 January 2007

SINCE she was retrenched by the airport company, where she worked as a cleaner, seven years ago, 40-year old Mmaphefo Moeng has been preparing and selling food from a gazebo inside the recently renovated taxi rank at the corner of Pim and Queen Streets in Newtown. She has an established client base - mainly taxi drivers - and makes enough money to take care of herself and her two children. She has never fallen foul of the law and knows where she can and cannot sell. "Only traders who obstruct pavements get arrested. It's fine here. I have access to water and electricity and I don't have to pay rent."

Her friend, Maria Mphogo, has been a "cooking mama" - food hawker - since 1989, selling from a caravan in the open space opposite the rank. The two women are fortunate to operate from a relatively secure location, where they can lock their goods overnight. They also have easy access to water from the taxi rank.

But now they have a new concern - "since they built the Metro Mall, they want us to move from here. I can't afford the rent they charge and I don't know where else to go," Mphogo says. Given a choice, she would much rather be a regular employee. "There is no security in this business and we don't make much money. I can't even afford to fall sick for a day."

Both women buy their supplies from wholesalers in Mayfair, some 5km away. "I travel by taxi to buy my stock, and I buy just enough to last me for the day," Moeng explains. "If anything remains, I have to carry it home."

These women are part of an estimated 10 000 traders who peddle their goods on the streets of the city. Most are self-employed, but a few are dropped at street corners by employers, like farmers, wanting to bypass middlemen by selling their products directly to the customers.

Since they burst into the cityscape early in the last century, informal traders have attracted much attention, mostly unwelcome, from a myriad of interest groups.

Many informal traders resort to selling fruits because fruits are readily available from the Fresh Produce Market

Perennial economic and social outcasts, they have been perceived as unfair competition by mainstream retailers, as obstructions by motorists, as unsightly, unhealthy and obdurate by the authorities who blamed them for the decay of the inner city - but to the multitude of their customers, they are a convenient and cost-effective way to get goods cheaply and in small quantities.

The South African Chamber of Business complained back in 1993 that "The activities of the informal sector, particularly in respect of retailing in an uncontrolled manner, affect formal business interests and in broad terms such activities are seen as a threat not only from a competitive point of view but also from the point of adversely affecting the ambience of the trading environment."

Hawking in the city has had a long but chequered history. Whether selling fruits from the back of their vans, milk from carts, fruits, bread or clothes from pavements or muti from taxi ranks, informal traders have been part of the city landscape for almost a century.

A succession of governments during the apartheid era tried in vain to get rid of the sector. Motivated by notions of racial purity, they sought to remove the mainly black traders from the streets of the city, to keep the streets lily white. Many of the early informal traders conducted their businesses from train stations, taxi ranks, the backs of their trucks and other unobtrusive spaces. They tended to be mobile, selling mainly goods they could carry.

The persecution of hawkers was intensified in the 1950s, when law enforcement agencies embarked on a concerted campaign to rid the city of street traders. But the traders proved resilient and continued trading until the 1980s, when the authorities relented, and relaxed the regulations, allowing even black traders to obtain licences to trade from designated spots.

The lifting of restrictions in the late 1980s gave rise to rapid, albeit uncontrolled growth. At the same time, the South African economy experienced a major slowdown, resulting in the formal sector shedding jobs. Many retrenched workers joined the informal sector, becoming survivalist traders brought into the sector by desperation rather than by choice and making just enough money to survive.

Food for sale - Hawkers prepare and sell food in the open

Indeed, the early 1990s is generally acknowledged as a period of unprecedented, rapid, but unplanned growth of the sector. Most commentators attribute this development to the relaxation of influx control regulations that resulted in many economic migrants flocking into the city.

The Business Act of 1991 dispensed with the requirement for trade licensing, allowing hawkers to trade freely. In terms of the legislation, provincial and local authorities were given the power to determine their own regulations. This deregulation became a catalyst for the uncontrolled expansion of the sector. "Overnight, there was an explosion of street traders from about 300 licensed traders to 10 000, just in the CBD. These traders operated in a vacuum; there were no management tools, legislation or infrastructure to accommodate this flood," says Li Pernegger, who was the manager of economic empowerment and business support in the city from 1994 to 1999.

In recent years, the City of Johannesburg has tried to reassert its authority by developing mechanisms to regulate the sector whilst cleaning up and regenerating the inner city at the same time, making it more attractive to big business. Hawkers, however, experience the measures adopted by the city as harassment, protesting that they impede their legitimate commercial undertakings.

Issues of contention:

Law enforcement
Adam Goldsmith, who acted as operations manager of informal sector development and is currently contracts manager of the Johannesburg Development Agency, concedes that the City has, over the past decade, not been consistent in its enforcement of by-laws. The Joburg municipality, Goldsmith says, did not have enough staff members. "Between 1998 and 2000, we only had 30 people enforcing by-laws," he says, adding, "still the informal trading unit was expected to police the area stretching from Sandton to Soweto. Informal traders took advantage of this poor enforcement." Braamfontein, for instance, is a restricted area where street trading is not allowed. But the lack of enforcement has meant that hawkers continue trading from the streets of the precinct.

The establishment of the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) in 2001 greatly enhanced the capacity of the city to enforce the by-laws. A unit consisting of 115 officers and dedicated to the enforcement of by-laws has now been established. Tselane Maila, deputy director of central operations at the JMPD, says the metro police intensified raids on hawker stalls in February this year. He describes this campaign as a "by-law enforcement operation" and explains that only hawkers peddling illegal products, such as counterfeit goods, and those selling from restricted or prohibited areas are targeted.
Hawker organisations, on the other hand, accuse the JMPD of criminalising their endeavours by subjecting them to illegal raids and often using excessive force in arresting them and impounding their goods. Free market advocate, Leon Louw of the Law Review Project, which offers legal advice and representation to hawkers, says: "Officers on the ground often act contrary to their instructions. Some of them fail to identify themselves properly and they don't always give reasons why they evict people. The problem is with the enforcement." He accuses JMPD officers of themselves being guilty of "theft, corruption, extortion and even robbery". All the same, he says that hawkers are sometimes to blame for littering on the streets.

Maila dismisses the corruption allegations, and instead charges that criminal elements often hide among street traders. He adds that some hawkers are arrested, not for trading, but for being illegal immigrants. "Illegals often abandon their goods and just run away." He vows that the JMPD will not shirk its responsibility of by-law enforcement, and promises a clampdown on illegal traders in the near future. He says that all officers are under instruction to follow laid-down procedures in acting against hawkers. Hawkers must be given 48-hours notice to vacate their site before any action is taken against them. Those whose goods are impounded must be given a receipt which itemises confiscated goods. Maila promises swift action against officers who fail to act procedurally.

According to Maila, of the 10 000 traders in the inner city, 70% sell in violation of the city by-laws. The JMPD works with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and environmental health officers to remove hawkers who sell live chickens. Some of those who sell prepared food may be charged under the Health Act which prohibits the cooking of food out in the open.

Typical by-law infringements include selling from areas which were declared restricted by the council in 1999, such as Braamfontein, Constitution Hill, Fordsburg, Jeppestown and Newtown. Other areas such as Park Station, Hillbrow and Joubert Park were to be restricted upon the completion of markets within their proximity.

Louw has challenged the constitutionality of the by-laws, arguing that "they infringe the hawkers' freedom to trade and are thus unconstitutional. They also violate the Business Act by declaring certain parts of the city restricted to informal trading." Louw has threatened to take this matter up with the Constitutional Court. Section 6A of the Business Act, however, confers on local authorities the power to "make by-laws regarding the restriction of the carrying on" of street vending, peddling or hawking.

The by-laws also requires hawkers not to: impede pedestrian movement, display goods on buildings without permission from the owner, store property in a manhole or storm water drain, trade outside a place of worship.

Hawkers claim that there is a causal link between the opening of new markets and the seasonal clampdown on their trade. Following the opening of markets in Yeoville, Hillbrow and now the Metro Mall, the impounding of goods was intensified, hawkers allege. Meanwhile the city is developing a set of new by-laws.

Markets / Infrastructure
The city has embarked on a plan to establish markets for informal traders to remove them from the streets. Lonwabo Mgudlwa, the newly appointed specialist economic facilitator responsible for hawking in the city, describes markets as "one tool of ensuring that informal traders have access to environments that are well established and better equipped. Even when these markets are in place, legal and controlled street trading will be allowed in the city."

The Metropolitan Trading Company (MTC) was established to develop and maintain markets and provide infrastructure for informal traders and taxi operators. To date, the company has overseen the development of three markets, Yeoville, Hillbrow and most recently, the Metro Mall. According to Keith Atkins, CEO of the MTC, the three markets have the combined capacity to accommodate almost 1 000 traders. Other markets under construction are the Mai Mai at the corner of End and Bree streets, the Kerk Street market, Faraday, Hoek Street, Jeppe Market and Kliptown.

"Once completed, markets in the city will have the capacity to accommodate between 3 000 and 4 000 traders," says Nhlanhla Ndovela, the operations manager of the MTC. The rationale behind providing these facilities is to move traders into markets with improved conditions for traders and service for clients. On the streets, as Pernegger points out, traders have no security of tenure and the infrastructure is either poor or non-existent. In the long term, the city anticipates that most traders will operate from relatively well-equipped markets and only a few will remain on the streets.

The hawkers have welcomed these markets but added that, as Edmund Elias, the spokesman of the Gauteng Hawkers Association (GHA), puts it, markets are not a "total alternative to street trading". Recently, traders in both Yeoville and Hillbrow have been up in arms, decrying the state of the markets and protesting that since moving into the markets, where, they claim, they have to pay exorbitant rent, they have lost their clientele. Rent at the Yeoville market is R2.75 per day. Since August, they have embarked on an indefinite rent boycott to get the MTC to speak to them. "There are no boards directing customers to the market," complains Themba Ncusana, chairperson of the Yeoville Traders Association.

Ndovela concedes that more needs to be done to promote the markets and to "change the mindset of customers". To improve conditions at the markets, the MTC has started "inviting suppliers to come in. We have approached companies like Koo, Tastic and Anchor Yeast to establish a base, especially at the Metro Mall, to make supplies more easily accessible to traders".

More confrontational is Elias, who describes the MTC as "a rogue company" and accuses the company of having little to show for the amount of money it has spent. At the Hillbrow market, for instance, "there is no storage, no running water and the roof is inadequate", he charges.

Stuart Munn, chairperson of the Hillbrow Berea Hawkers Association, contends that the money spent building markets "could have been better spent in developing street stalls".

Atkins dismisses these accusations, saying that the MTC has "followed council and province procedures and standard accounting and sound business practice". He puts the total amount spent on the construction of markets at about R153-million, adding that "this figure includes both money and land value".

In refuting the allegations made by hawker leaders, Ndovela contends that the MTC has bent over backwards to accommodate traders. "In January, we reduced rent by an average of 50%. We set up market committees in Yeoville and Hillbrow to involve traders in the running of the markets." She puts the occupancy rate at the Hillbrow and Yeoville markets at around 79%, adding that the MTC is still allocating stalls at the Metro Mall.

Each market, Ndovela says, has house rules which govern the behaviour of all parties and there are grievance procedures for aggrieved parties to follow.

She agrees however that communication between the MTC and the traders can be improved. "We need open communication. Traders must be informed about the implication of moving into markets - that they have to pay rent - to make sure that we have the same expectations."

A major problem of the sector relates to the sheer number of informal traders. There are an estimated 10 000 traders in the inner city and only about 10% of these can be accommodated in markets. It is clear that the sector cannot accommodate all the traders, although Elias insists that the survivalist traders - those who live from hand to mouth - are the ones who need money generated from street trading the most. Clearly, people like Moeng are traders by default. "I would very much like to be employed. If I could find a job, I would stop trading," she says.
Survivalist traders like Moeng epitomise a larger problem of destitution affecting many people in the city. What they need is viable poverty alleviation programmes or jobs in the formal sector.

In its strategy to overhaul the sector, the City anticipates that in the long term, many such subsistence traders will gradually disappear from the scene and be absorbed into the burgeoning economy as employees in the formal sector.

Challenges Ahead:

The immediate challenge is for the two parties, traders and the city, to reopen channels of communication. While in the late 1990s, according to Goldsmith, there was a "working relationship, though not always smooth", today, there is a complete breakdown in communication between the traders and the council. Until early this year, the street traders and council representatives sat on the "Informal Trading Forum". There is a need for either the revival of this structure or the establishment of a similar forum.
One factor which made communication with hawkers difficult was the proliferation of organisations claiming to represent informal traders. The consolidation of the various organisations into the Informal Business Forum - a coalition of hawker organisations in the city - is a welcome development which should make communication with the sector much easier. Mgudlwa sounds an optimistic note, saying "hawkers will be drawn into our efforts to develop and control the sector" and in "the spatial analysis - to determine how and where they trade". The executive mayor has also indicated his willingness to meet the traders in the near future.

It is also clear that there is a limit to the number of traders the streets can accommodate. The Johannesburg Chamber of Business noted as far back as 1993 that "a package of welfare-type assistance measures might be a more cost-effective way of reinforcing the safety-net function which is presently being fulfilled by street trading activities". A similar idea has now been mooted by Mgudlwa, who says, "some hawkers can be linked up with social welfare programme and will have no need to trade". Pernegger points out that a challenging task is for the city to strike a balance between managing and developing the sector. "You deal with limited resources, and you have to manage the impact of this huge, rapid growth of the sector, but at the same time to facilitate the economic development of the traders." Mgudlwa sees this development and control to be only the first phase of his intervention. They are setting up an informal trading development programme development, he adds. "Thereafter, we have to analyse the sector in terms of supply chain to develop a support mechanism. This will entail linking traders directly to their suppliers, developing relationships between traders and their suppliers and advising traders to explore other more profitable products, improving the transport network to help traders diversify their products."

There is also a need to improve the infrastructure available to vendors, especially those selling food. Even Munn concedes that preparing food in the open poses serious health hazards. "Food must be properly prepared and packaged. Otherwise there is a risk of people being poisoned." Some traders have been known to throw fat and other substances into gutters, blocking drains and sewers in the process. The city's environmental health unit recently announced an awareness campaign targeted at traders selling food on the streets of the city.

With political will and compromise, the interests of the city and those of the informal traders can be reconciled. Mgudlwa appears unfazed by these challenges and undertakes to engage hawker organisations in the not too distant future. "Hawkers will be involved in our spatial analysis - how and where they trade. We will incorporate their needs." These factors may yet usher in a new era for informal traders in the city, an era underpinned by a cooperative relationship between the traders and the authorities.

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Last Updated on 15 June 2007