Dispute over City of Cape Town's confiscation of informal traders’ goods

2016-11-25 19:03
A City of Cape Town law enforcement official holds a bag where confiscated goods are placed. (Screenshot from video taken by Zackie Achmat)

A City of Cape Town law enforcement official holds a bag where confiscated goods are placed. (Screenshot from video taken by Zackie Achmat)

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Cape Town - A number of informal traders in St George’s Mall had their goods confiscated during a raid by the City of Cape Town’s law enforcement last week, GroundUp reported on Friday.

The City alleges that they were trading illegally.

Riedewaan Charles, chairperson of the Western Cape Informal Traders Coalition, said the City was clamping down on informal traders and claimed that law enforcement did not always adhere to the city’s by-laws.

Videos of the raid taken by by well known activist Zackie Achmat show a City law enforcement officer and a member of the Central City Improvement District (CCID) removing wooden carvings from an informal trader, while two other traders look on.

Achmat described the traders as "totally dejected and resigned to this".

He says he asked the officers if they would rather that the traders act illegally.

"Especially in the context of vulnerable people trying to make a living, many of whom are immigrants and asylum seekers."

Permits obtained from the City allow traders to sell particular type of goods within a demarcated bay.

According the Cape Town Informal Traders By-Law, a trader who contravenes the by-law is supposed to get a warning first, before their goods can be confiscated. The only exception to this is when the trader is selling illegal goods.

'Dompas system'

Achmat said that a number of the traders who had their goods confiscated had never received warnings.

The confiscation of traders’ goods without a warrant needs to be tested in court, he said.

However, mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said no warrant was needed.

Achmat argues that by leasing space in the city, the trading bay becomes the trader’s private space and a warrant with the trader’s name on it is needed to confiscate the goods.

"If the City of Cape Town knew there was illegal trading at Pick n Pay, they would get a warrant. It is terrible that there is no intervention. It is a question of spatial justice and the right to trade in the city."

Smith said trading plans were in place to minimise any negative impact on formal businesses and the wider public.

Charles called the requirement that traders always carry their permits a "dompas system".

"If you don’t have your permit because you haven’t paid, because business has been bad for that month, your goods will be confiscated."

Informal traders request meeting with City law enforcement

A permit costs between R76 to R300 per month. Fines and impoundment fees range from R500 to R2 000. If impounded goods are not collected within a month, the City may sell them.

If the trader comes to collect goods after they have been sold, he or she will receive the proceeds of the sale, less the impoundment costs. After three months, any unclaimed proceeds are forfeited to the City.

The City is allowed to sell perishable goods at any time after the impoundment, or dispose of them if their condition renders them unfit for human consumption.

"Most people are so scared that they don’t go back to get their stuff," Charles said.

The Western Cape Informal Traders Coalition has asked the department of economic development to arrange a meeting between law enforcement and informal traders.

"So that the one hand can know what the other hand does," said Charles.

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