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Hawkers store food in public toilets

Free State – Unfulfilled promises to provide the hawkers of Thaba Nchu with proper trading stalls has resulted in people having to store their food in public toilets overnight.

After a hard day’s work of cooking and selling food, hawkers store their food supplies, cutlery and gas stoves in the public toilet facilities where they are locked up until dawn the following day.

This is because there are no proper storage facilities for them, and it is too costly and difficult for the hawkers to take everything home with them at the end of the day, only to have to bring it back the following morning.

The difficult situation comes after municipal law enforcement unit officials ordered them to remove their shacks and caravans out of the CBD a few months ago. Vendors were faced with the challenge of operating their businesses in the open air during harsh winter weather.

‘Only workable solution’

And so the vendors bought themselves proper gazebos from which to run their food stands. Now at night the public toilets nearby are packed full of food containers, porridge, salads, maize meal, vegetables and cutlery. It’s the only workable solution they have for now.

Back in 2015, Mangaung Metro undertook to build 222 trading stalls in Botshabelo for hawkers. The first phase was completed in 2016, with 49 stalls officially being handed over to hawkers by executive mayor Olly Mlamleli. And after that, the construction of the remaining 173 stalls stopped. Unfinished structures were abandoned and have now become a vandalised dumping site.

Hawker Dorah Raditabo welcomed the building of new stalls, as she says business is currently slower than it was when they operated from shacks and tents. The new stalls are built by bricks and equipped with water and electricity.

No option

In the CBD of Thaba Nchu, hawkers continue to store their stock in shacks set up behind the CBD, but say it is not safe as thieves steal their stock and they lose money as a result.

Qondile Khedama, spokesperson for Mangaung Metro said the construction of stalls stopped on the instructions of the municipality, at the conclusion of the first phase of the project.

“The construction isn’t finished. The city is currently working towards ensuring that the contractor is mandated to continue with phase 2 of the project, but also considering this extension in the next financial year’s budget,” he said, explaining why the continuation of the stall construction had been delayed.

When asked when the stalls will finally be completed, Qondile repeated that the city is working towards mandating a contractor for phase 2 of the project, and work had yet to start up again.

So for the hawkers in Thaba Nchu, a safe and clean storage space is still a dream yet to be realised and they have no option but to store their goods in public toilet facilities.

‘Land tariff’

Meanwhile in the Eastern Cape, a group of hawkers have accused the Ingquza Hill Local Municipality of charging them for running their small business on the streets despite there being no proper shelters for them.  

“We don’t have jobs. We sell chips, fruit and sweets on the street to feed our families. The municipality should support us but is demanding R150. Sometimes we can’t afford this and have to go to loan sharks to pay,” said hawker Nosakhele Gayiya.

Nosiviwe Mjoko lives 15km from town and spends R40 a day on transport. She complained that she earns very little from hawking and often goes home empty-handed. “This is a crisis and the municipality should help us, not suck our money,” she said.

Flagstaff Hawkers Association chairperson Zolani Mlathwa said the municipality had not informed them about the R150 annual charge.

“We asked the municipality what the money is for and they told us it’s a ‘land tariff’. But the hawkers get nothing in return for the money – they are not safe, there are no proper shelters, no tables and they sell outside in hot and cold weather,” he said, adding that the municipality should provide shelters for the hawkers.

Municipal spokesperson Zamuxolo Mathwasa said hawkers needed to pay the tariff according to by-laws and the fee went towards water, toilets and electricity.

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