Anger at detention of newspaper street sellers amid police swoop

2014-07-03 00:00

TWENTY-FIVE newspaper street sellers for The Witness found themselves caught up in a police “smash and grab” operation this week — with 24 detained and one arrested yesterday.

In mass detentions which angered the editor of The Witness and management of its publishing company, Media24, the registered and fully identified sellers, wearing official bibs, were taken from their street corners on the Bluff, Umbilo and Queensburgh and questioned at SAPS stations, before being ­released without charge.

The Witness understands that police have removed all hawkers and illegal traffic light “cellphone charger” sellers along the Solomon Mahlangu corridor (the former Edwin Swales Drive) in response to claims that some sellers were ­behind an epidemic of smash-and-grab robberies and hijackings of motorists in the past month.

However, registered street sellers for Media24 newspapers were rounded up too over the past two days — with one seller, Thabani Nkosi, detained on Tuesday and ­also arrested yesterday, before ­being quickly released.

Priya Moonsamy, KZN informal trade supervisor for Media24, said: “I understand the need to rid the streets of the illegal guys and to find criminals, but really I was angry to learn that our official sellers were basically arrested in the course of making an honest living.

“Most of their income is from commission on sales, and so they lost money as a result, and we lost sales.”

She said Nkosi had been arrested because, having been already questioned the day before, “he ran away when police approached him again because he was scared”.

One official street seller, Siya Buthelezi (25), said he was taken to Sea View police station, and that his fingerprints and photograph were taken. “I was afraid — they questioned us about these cars that are being broken [into], and I said I know nothing about that; I am just doing my job,” he said.

Officers at Bellair police station told The Witness that newspaper bibs were not sufficient credentials as they could be stolen by criminals intent on using the accessories to get close to motorists.

However, Moonsamy said Media24 bibs were tightly controlled — handed in at night and re-issued in the mornings — and that none had been stolen.

Jacques Roestoff, Media24’s KZN head of distribution, said police had offered “grace” for sellers to continue working on the route uninterrupted from today.

Police spokesperson Thulani Zwane could not confirm details of the Durban south operation.

Witness editor Andrew Trench said the detentions were “unacceptable” — “the police know very well that there is a long tradition of newspaper street sales, and its an important employment avenue. This should not have happened.”

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