Ambivalent about, but not indifferent to, Joburg’s street hawkers

The other morning I was travelling to the St John Ambulance Brigade office near Park Station Johannesburg when I saw some Metro cops harassing the street vendor who works at the corner. They confiscated her goods. I was more than just a little stressed by what I witnessed. Then I learned that this was happening all over the city. The next day she was back. I was glad to see her again and sorrowed for the financial loss she had suffered.

Woman selling roasted mielies.  Image by Heather Mason.

Woman selling roasted mielies. Image by Heather Mason.

I have been following the saga, sympathetic to both sides of the issue. Yes, the traders do add to the crime and grime. Yes, they also have to support families and some of them are legally there. No, I don’t ever buy from them.

Hairbraiders on Kerk Street.  Image by Heather Mason

Hairbraiders on Kerk Street. Image by Heather Mason

The City of Johannesburg has been updating the media regularly. Here’s their latest press release:


The City of Johannesburg invites all informal traders who have been verified to present themselves at Metro Mall to be issued with new Smart Cards. The issuing of the new smart cards paves that way for the allocation of stand for trading to happen in the Inner City of Johannesburg. Metro Mall is situated on number 171 Bree Street on the corner of Bree Street and Sauer Street.

The City of Johannesburg acknowledges the relevance and contribution of informal trading to the economic and social life of the City. Informal Trading provides income to the unemployed and also represent an alternative to established formal retail sector.

The City aims to develop the sector and its participants to be commercially viable, and this will in turn contribute to the economic growth of the City and the quality of life of its citizens in a sustainable manner.

While the needs of street traders to sustain their livelihood and exploit future economic opportunities are important, a balance has to be struck with the needs of commuters, pedestrians, formal businesses, residents and other users of the side walk space. In this way, the City of Johannesburg can have clean, safe and well-organised public environments.

As part of the ongoing efforts by the City to create a conducive environment for informal trading, the City of Johannesburg leadership continues to meet with the informal sector leadership to improve trading in the Inner City.”

Fruit vendors on Kerk Street.  Image by Heather Mason.

Fruit vendors on Kerk Street. Image by Heather Mason.

I thought the verification process was to determine who had already been granted permission to trade. It really does seem unfair that these unfortunate vendors have to apply again and to have to go through another round of officialdom. In the interim these people, both legal and illegal vendors, have suffered financial loss, emotional trauma and considerable public comment both positive and negative.

I remain ambivalent about the street hawkers, but certainly not indifferent to their plight.

Sweets and cigarettes vendor in Hillbrow.  Image by Heather Mason.

Sweets and cigarettes vendor in Hillbrow. Image by Heather Mason.

Note: Pictures by Heather Mason – 2summers whose blog entry on the same subject can be read here These images are used with permission of their creator.


About moirads

Clergy person, theatre and music lover, avid reader, foodie. Basically, I write about what I do, where I go and things I love (or hate).
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