Joburg’s informal traders want better spaces
New association formed to lobby for improved conditions
Dade Hlatshwayo, more commonly known as “Mama Joyce” to the street vendors in Central Johannesburg, has been selling vegetables on the corner of Helen Joseph Street for decades.
Hlatshwayo, 66, is part of a recently formed organisation called the Johannesburg Informal Traders Platform (JITP) which is made up of nine street and market vendor organisations. JITP organises and represents street and market vendors and Hlatshwayo’s role is to manage the “block leaders” in the inner city who ensure that all vendors on their block comply with the City of Johannesburg’s regulations.
Hlatshwayo said she got into the informal trade through her grandmother and mother who were both street vendors in Johannesburg. She lives in an RDP house in Soweto with nine other family members including her children and grandchildren.
“This table right here is the livelihood of my whole family…we went from sleeping on the streets to trying to make a living for ourselves through this,” she said pointing to her stand.
On most days Hlatshwayo works a 12-hour shift, setting up her stand at 7am and leaving at about 7pm. But she said the money she takes home monthly, about R1,200, is not enough to take care of her family. Two of her children have learning disabilities and the third does not have permanent employment.
Another street vendor Betty Phakathi described Mama Joyce as the “mother of the streets”. “She took me in when I was very young and I worked for her and my sister for many years,” she said.
Phakathi, who is a block leader, operates her own stall on Kerk Street in Central Johannesburg where she sells fruit and vegetables.
“About three or four times a week I have to wake up at 3am to travel from Soweto to the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market to make sure I have the freshest vegetables. I then hire a car to transport my stock to town…it becomes very expensive and sometimes we don’t make the money we spend on stock,” said Phakathi.
She said she makes about R500 per week but most of it goes towards paying her assistant, transport to and from work and paying the “security guards” to look after the stock. The vendors leave their stock with young men who guard it overnight because they do not have storage space.
Storage space was one of the biggest challenges the vendors said they face. In the late afternoon they pack the stock into containers and put it on trolleys which are left in the centre of the sheltered market overnight.
The vendors said the lack of adequate storage facilities had led to their stock being damaged by bad weather or being stolen numerous times.
Other challenges for the vendors included a lack of capital to buy stock, inadequate shelter when it rains, no access to water or toilets and no office space to store information or hold meetings.
Jane Barrett, a director at Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), said the formalisation of the informal trade would improve the livelihood of the workers and benefit the economy.
Based on the 2018 first quarter Labour Force Survey, WIEGO has calculated that there are about 1.1 million informal workers across the three major metros in Gauteng.
Barrett said there are two types of informal workers: those who have an employer like domestic workers, and those who are self-employed, like street vendors and waste pickers.
Of those in the informal sector in the three major metros of Gauteng, WIEGO says 56.1% are employees and 42.5% are self-employed workers according to the Labour Force Survey. WIEGO says this means there are about 470,000 self-employed workers in the three major Gauteng metros.
Barrett said the notion of informal traders as independent entrepreneurs who should be left alone “needs to change”. She said many of them did not have capital to expand, relied heavily on municipalities to allow them to operate, and did not have basic business training.
She said municipalities needed to create an environment for informal traders to run their businesses.
“Both a legal and an infrastructural environment need to be created for informal traders …municipalities need to enforce the law and also provide informal traders with places to work, storage spaces, ablution facilities and access to water,” said Barrett.
She said municipalities should engage with vendors and “not use a top-down decision making approach”.
Policy review in progress
Elliott Dubasi, Acting Assistant Director of Informal Trading in the City’s Department of Economic Development, said the City did consult with informal traders through associations and block leaders.
He said the department had set up a working committee to talk to traders about a policy review “which is in process”.
But he said the City had faced some challenges in formalising the sector. The increasing number of traders had strained the carrying capacity of the inner city, he said.
Pavement traders got in the way of pedestrians and streets were deteriorating rapidly.
“With the highest trading densities located in the middle of the largest transport node in the City and in South Africa, the mobility and safety of hundreds of thousands of commuters is severely compromised,” he said.
Dubasi said the City had built 11 sheltered markets in central Johannesburg some of which had ablution facilities and some close to public toilets.
Street vendors paid about R100 a month for rent and rentals in the markets varied according to the size, the area and the kind of stall, he said.
Although the City was working towards formalising informal traders, Dubasi said this would not guarantee that all the vendors’ demands would be met.
“Formalisation of traders does not guarantee the provision of storage space. It only gives a trader a space to trade. The City provides storage for legal traders but it is never enough because of the large number of traders, as a result street traders organise storage for themselves,” he told GroundUp.
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