Behind the City of Joburg’s purge of street traders: ANC patronage, corruption and xenophobia

Over 5000 Johannesburg street traders have been left without an income for a month – parents and breadwinners who normally get by on a hand-to-mouth basis are now facing an unbearable situation. The havoc wreaked upon street traders lives is a result of the City of Joburg’s Clean-Sweep Campaign. A project championed by Mayor Parks Tau (ANC), the ‘clean-up’ has seen Metro Police remove registered and non-registered traders alike.

After over 4000 street traders from across the city marched on the Mayor’s office on October 24, and a further march took place the following day, the Mayor’s office met with street traders’ organisations and march organisers, including the Workers and Socialist Party, on October 25. Together with the South African Informal Traders Forum (SAITF), the African Traders Committee (ATC), the One Voice of All Hawkers Association and the South African National Traders Association (Santra), WASP put up a simple demand: that all traders must be allowed back on the streets. Any cleaning or improvements in the city, we are convinced, could be undertaken with the street traders on site and participating. In response, the various MMCs present at the meeting claimed they were ‘taking back [their] streets’ and turning Johannesburg into ‘a World-class African City’. While they acknowledged that they had failed to communicate with the street traders’ elected representatives, they claimed that the ‘clean-up’ is undertaken in the traders’ best interest and that it would require their removal from the streets for another six weeks.

For street traders, a total of ten weeks with losses – e.g through confiscated and destroyed stock – and no income will be completely devastating. WASP as well as all the street traders’ organisations have therefore rejected this. Further mass action will be called shortly. We are also considering legal action against the City.

Behind the well-meaning façade of the City Council lurk very sinister real motives. During the Sep 25 meeting, Cllr Matshidiso Mfikoe (ANC), MMC for Infrastructure, Service delivery and Environment, argued that ‘people should work where they live’. On its own, this may sound like innocent common sense. But when echoed, as has been revealed to us through a report from an ANC member who attended an ANC branch meeting at Joubert Park earlier this month, by the ANC internally it becomes clear that this is code for ruling party patronage.

According to the report, the local ANC has set down that to be allowed to operate as a street trader in a particular ward in the new regime which shall be built on the ruins of the livelihoods of the removed street traders, you will not only have to be a resident of that ward but you also an ANC member. In other words, the alleged clean-up is really an attempt to crush the traders and start a process of primitive accumulation, replacing them with ruling party loyals.

The same ANC meeting reportedly proclaimed that it would put ‘our people’ on the streets, and it was said explicitly that ‘foreigners must go’. These shameful attempts at dividing the working and poor people of Johannesburg are also evident in the JMPD’s approach to the ‘clean-up’, which entails arbitrary arrests against any black African who is found without carrying an ID.

MMC Mfikoe also stated that ‘just because these foreigners have IDs it doesn’t mean that we have to treat them…’ Xenophobia, racism, patronage, looting and corruption – these are the pillars on which the ANC is really basing its so-called ‘clean-up of Johannesburg, and its rule generally. It is this ugly underbelly of capitalism that should be cleaned away.

As JMPD officers continue to harass traders and confiscate goods, in many instances irregularly – eg without issuing receipts, pocketing goods – WASP together with the various street traders’ organisations continues to mobilise for a people-driven clean-up. It is we who live and work in the City who need to take it back.

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