Informal trading: no easy solutions

Informal trading has been an issue in Yeoville Bellevue and elsewhere since the early 1990s. As the demography of the inner city of Johannesburg began to change, the way in which the economy of the area worked begin to transform. Within a short time, the pavements were filled with informal traders. Initially many of these were selling African crafts because their target audience was the whites and the tourists that still frequented the inner city, which includes areas like Hillbrow and Yeoville.

But as the transformation of the city quickened and whites moved out, street trading changed and began to focus more on the needs of the increasingly black population. The number of traders increased too as the population grew and people turned to the informal sector as a way of making a living.

By the late 1990s, efforts by the City of Johannesburg to come up with an effective management strategy were failing. In Yeoville Bellevue, a decision was taken to build a market. And once that was done, street trading was completely banned in the area.

This ban has never worked. Over the last 11 years, there have been sporadic attempts to resolve the issue, but nothing has succeeded, largely because, while a ban was in place, the only way to control the situation was to have effective enforcement of the ban – and this would require a permanent enforcement presence in the area, working well into the night. CoJ has never seen this as an option.

In December, it seemed that a small war might break out between street traders and traders operating from the Yeoville Market. Street traders are on the pavements outside busy shops, so they capture more business than those who operate from the market. In addition, unlike market traders, street traders pay no site rents. The situation was getting progressively worse with an increasing number of street traders on the pavement directly opposite the market.

The CoJ called a meeting which was attended by around 400 traders, half from the market, half from the streets. As a representative of the YBCDT (which is promoting holistic development in the area), I proposed the establishment of a task team comprising all stakeholders including market traders, market management, street traders, organised street trader representatives, formal businesses, property owners, community members and various agencies of the City of Johannesburg. The brief: to come up a universally-accepted, enforceable solution.

This solution could include an expansion of the existing market, additional markets, limited well-managed street trading, staellite services such as cleaning and recycling to help manage the waste aspect of street trading, training and development of informal traders, a self-regulation framework supported by all stakeholders as a way of managing informal trading and preventing it spiralling out of control again, etc.

Three meetings, including a site inspection of the area, have taken place. But it is clear that the market traders feel aggrieved by the unmanaged presence of street traders close to them, while street traders continued to challenge Metro Police enforcement of the trading ban.

This is making it difficult to find an interim arrangement, which everyone agrees is necessary while a more permanent solution is developed. The street traders want temporarily demarcated trading sites where they now sell and for which they are prepared to pay a fee. They also want a moratorium on Metro Police action.

The market traders support the idea of a moratorium, but they want no trading at all on Rockey Raleigh St, at least between Cavendish Rd and Kenmere Rd, the busiest commercial section of Yeoville Bellevue. They have proposed the temporary relocation of traders to Kenmere Rd, one of the streets crossing Raleigh which is reasonably busy.

The city will now have to make a deicsion. I proposed a compromise. No trading in the street in front of the market and no trading until halfway along the next block, sufficiently far from the market to make a difference.

Whether the CoJ will agree to a moratorium is yet to be seen. But this is not going to be an easy process, nor should it be a quick one. We’ve already had 11 years of problems. There’s no point in taking short cuts to get the process finished very quickly (a date of 15 April has been set for a final, long-term solution – very unrealistic) and then find that either the decision has unintended consequences which we missed because of trying to fast-track it, or some people are not fully on board and sufficiently happy and the process gets sabotaged down the line because of their disgruntlement.

Earlier in the day had a meeting with Dawn Robertson of Gauteng Tourism Authority (GTA). She would like to support Africa Week, though they don’t disburse funds themselves for festivals. Still waiting for Province to come back to us on whether they will give us anything.

Meanwhile, Dawn is keen to support our tourism project – we want to develop some tourist routes through the area (with plaques etc organised through CoJ Heritage and PHRAG) and then train 15 – 20 youngsters as tourist guides who will be able to guarantee visitors a safe and enlightening journey through the area. We need to develop the product first – the routes, the content etc – and then the training will be done against that product. Exciting stuff. But I have to write a proposal very quickly so I am enlisting support from experts to help me do that.

In the evening, had to go over the liquor database with Simphiwe. It’s a difficult list, but we must get it competed so that we can give it to the Liquor Board and the SAPS. The station commander asked for it the other day – after he had been quoted in the paper as saying that there were not over 120 liquor outlets in the area as we have claimed. I think he will be shocked.

The liquor issue really does have the possibility of being resolved now. There are so many things in favour of a positve change – government’s newly-found concern about the problsm associated with liquor, the formation of our Yeoville Bellevue Community Advocacy Committee which will streamline and make more effective community efforts – we’re even talkking about exciting things like mass marches), the beginnings of a (still fractious) relationship with the Yeoville Liquor Traders’ Association, the ongoing consolidation and strengthening of the CPF, the excellent work done by Simphiwe Naki.

Late night again – went to bed at 3,30am – had to get Yeovue News produced. Luckily a lot of the copy was supplied by community members. I just had to put it all together and do a bit of editing. I look forward to the day I can hand this over to someone else. It’s so important, but so time-consuming. But that will take money that we don’t as yet have. One of these days, we’ll get an application in to the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA). It’s been a long time coming.

Final point: someone is stealing the palisade fence along the park in Muller St. A whole section more than a metre wide is just gone. We have asked people around the park to keep an open on it and see if they can trap the perpetrators in the act. We’ll also have to check the scrap yars in the area – they’ve already been found to be receiving stolen goods. Otherwise there’s a serious risk it will all be gone in the next few days. Maybe we should also encourage all the residents around the park to form a Park Committee and they can work together to play a general oversight role and help to maintain the park as a children-friendly space.

Only finished yesterday’s blog today, partly because the WordPress site was read only for a while last night, partly because of Yeovue News.

This is hard work.

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