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Selling fresh produce or cooked food from pavement stalls, or groceries from home spaza shops is a common practice in Joburg’s townships. But the trade is governed by City by-laws.
INFORMAL trading is one of the major ways in which Joburg residents sustain themselves and their families.


Samson Kubayi relies on informal trading to earn a livingSamson Kubayi relies on informal trading to earn a livingTownships in particular are synonymous with traders selling fresh produce from street corners, braiding hair and operating spaza shops from their homes. Freedom Park, a township in the south, is one example of many.

Albertina Dhladhla, a Freedom Park resident, started her Corner House Tuck Shop in 1998 because she did not have a job and wanted to provide for her family. “At first business was doing great but then when I took to illness, my daughter had to take over, and by then the relocation had started and there were not as many people as there were in 1998,” she says.

Her tuck shop sells a variety of things, from cosmetics to food, paraffin to laundry products. According to Dhladhla, sales of food and airtime, and public phones are doing well; things such as bath soaps and lotion are not doing so great.

A street hawker, Samson Kubayi, does his business at the entrance to the Zion Christian Church. He sells church products and sweets. He started his small business in 1994, when his hopes of getting a decent job came crashing down.

He has been plying his trade since the days when Freedom Park was an informal settlement, comprising mostly shacks. Almost two years ago, it became a township. It now has lines of houses, schools and a park, replacing the unattractive structures and brown patches of land that once made up the landscape. Every household has electricity and some roads, once dusty, are tarred.

Walking through the township today, you are likely to spot old women cooking and selling maize and fresh produce from their pavement or backyard stalls, young women and men fixing their hair right next to food sellers, and container spaza shops dotted around.

But according to the City’s spokesperson, Virgil James, this is a health hazard and does not comply with Joburg’s informal trading by-laws. “One needs a permit in order to operate a spaza shop from his or her home.”

Traders can apply for these permits from the City council. In their applications, the prospective traders need to state which part of the house they intend to use for business, their planned business hours and the type of trade they plan. Completed applications go through a normal process of being approved by the various City units, including town planning and environmental health.


A well-stocked spaza shop in Freedom ParkA well-stocked spaza shop in Freedom ParkShould the submission be successful, neighbours will be consulted on their views regarding the business. Then, once permission has been granted by the council and community members, the trader can start operating.

But traders with permits must:

Keep the area or site they occupy in a clean and hygienic condition;
Keep their property in a clean, sanitary and well-maintained state.
Not throw litter in a manhole, storm water drain or other place not intended for the disposal of litter;
Ensure that at the end of the business day their trading areas are clean;
Ensure no pollution of any kind is caused by smoke, fumes or other substances, odours or noise emanating from their business;
On request by an authorised official, move their property to permit the cleaning of their trading space.
Foreign owners
Recently, foreigners have begun opening spaza shops in the township. Their entry into the market has created a rift between local spaza owners and businessmen. About two months ago, an argument between the two parties resulted in some foreign spaza owners closing their shops.

Local business people complained that spaza shops owned by foreigners were “putting them out of business” because they sold their goods at a much cheaper price.

Meetings were set up between local and foreign spaza owners and local and provincial authorities in December 2010. After these discussions, it was decided that all foreign-owned spaza shops must be closed pending an investigation into the legality of these businesses.

According to the Gauteng local government MEC, Humphrey Memezi, these foreign-owned businesses in Freedom Park will remain closed pending the outcome of a provincial government investigation. The investigation will look at the validity of documents allowing foreign shop owners to operate businesses, the occupation of RDP houses and the by-laws that cover these properties.

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