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Court case divides vendors


Ntsoaki Motaung

The case between government and street vendors over operation during the-ongoing Alert Level Red National Lockdown has allowed government to drive deeper a wedge dividing street vendors in their different formations and associations.

Newsday can reveal that while one formation is in court with government the other formation is in basically in bed with the same government thus distancing self from the legal battle whatsoever.

Street vendors took government in the person of the Ministry of small business development Cooperatives and Marketing, to court over what they call disenfranchisement by government in the roll-out of the lockdown regulations which bar them from operating under the guise of super-spreader risk, while big and better-established enterprises selling the same items as street vendors are allowed to operate during the same lockdown.

The case before the Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane was tabled in court on January 19, 2021 where it was postponed to today (Friday, January 22, 2021).

Chairman of popular street vendors’ association Khathang Tema Baitsokoli Tšolo Lebitsa, told Newsday that his association was in talk with the Ministry of Small Business Development Cooperatives and Marketing hence they had nothing to do with the court case in question.

“May I please not comment on the issue of the court case because as leaders and members of our association we are not part of the Case. Leadership of our association decided to opt instead for the negotiations route with government, we are aware that others may be enraged by our chosen way of doing things,” he said.

Lebitsa indicated that whether or not they are in support of the court case, the bottom line is that they are all fighting for the rights of street vendors so that they can be allowed to work during the National Lockdown.

“Street vendors are barred from selling during lockdown but foreign-owned businesses are allowed to sell the same goods as street vendors which include, fruits, vegetables and some of grocery items,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, Motlere Thobi on behalf of the Micro Small and Medium Enterprises Association (MSMEA) pointed that his association is not part of those that are in talks with government.

“We decided not to be part of the negotiations because as an association, we have written several letters to the Ministry requesting meetings for talks. So, it is clear that the relationship of the government and other associations is different from ours,” he said.

Thobi indicated that as street vendors they face starvation as their livelihood is brought to an abrupt end by the government through a lockdown which has not been properly prepared for.

“There are no plans to assist street vendors while their businesses are closed.

There are no rational grounds upon which our businesses have been closed when the other businesses, big retailers, offering same goods are allowed to operate. This is to give big retailers a monopoly over street vendors,” he protested.

On the other hand, one of the street vendors, one Thabiso Taole, pointed out that although a lockdown may be necessary, its impact on the informal business sector is very severe since they depend entirely on it.

“During the first lockdown, I tried to abide by the rules and stayed at home when instructed to. When I came back for work all of my stock was damaged and I had to rebuild the businesses from start. There was no M500 the Government had promised to assist us with. It is only today I have heard that some of the vendors are receiving it,” he said.

Taole indicated that having learned from the first lockdown he decided not stay at home this time.

“I came back for work on the third day of lockdown and some of my stock was already damaged so much that I had to throw away bananas and grape which means I have run a huge loss,” he said.

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