Joburg metro cops hit street bookseller again

2016-01-20 08:18
Mahle Mavimbela and his books in Johannesburg. (Griffin Shea, News24 Correspondent)

Mahle Mavimbela and his books in Johannesburg. (Griffin Shea, News24 Correspondent)

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Johannesburg - Street bookseller Mahle Mavimbela has lost his carefully selected collection once again in a raid by metro cops for obstructing the city's by-laws, but there is some good news for him.

News24 users have offered to help rebuild his bookselling business on the streets of Johannesburg's CBD.

But if Mavimbela, who has also been the victim of book thieves in the past, wants to get the books seized by metro cops back, he needs to pay a R250 fine within 24 hours. And after that, another R65 for every day the books are being "stored" for him, otherwise his books will become state property.

Couple Louise and Andrew Dickson and business owner Francois Minnie first came to know about Mavimbela when they read an article titled The cut-throat world of the Joburg street book trade on News24 last week.

The article describes some of the harsh conditions this entrepreneurial bibliophile endures while plying his trade along a very busy walkway in Johannesburg. Selling a book made a difference between whether or not his family would have enough to eat at night. It is no hobby.

'We want people to read'

This week the author of that article, Griffin Shea, wrote a post on his Facebook wall saying Mavimbela had been confronted by Johannesburg metro police officers, who informed him that he had contravened the city's by-laws on Monday.

"Metro cops came through and seized most of his books *again* this afternoon. I understand there are bylaws and we all want clean streets. But showcasing books doesn't make our city look trashy. It makes our city look smart and cosmopolitan -- because it is smart and cosmopolitan," Shea said.

He asked himself why police were targeting small, honest, start up businesses such as Mavimbela's when the country's unemployment statistics were so high.

"Charge him a little rent for the space and let the cops chase away actual thieves and muggers. We want people to read. We want people to start businesses. The sidewalk there is huge. Eye on the prize!" he added.

Shea's thoughts were echoed by the Dicksons, who said they had four boxes full of books ready to be delivered to Mavimbela.

He could do with them as he pleased. If they weren't popular on the streets, he could sell them to charities, anything that would help him recover the money he had lost from the robberies and confiscations.

"How else is he supposed to make a living? Reading is probably the number one thing in our lives... It's invaluable. There's no price on it. We want him to get some of the money that he lost."


They said the City of Johannesburg should consider making provision for people such as Mavimbela, who were trying to make an honest living, by perhaps having a designated place allocated to them where they could conduct their business safely.

"Even if they had an area where they did it and charged them a fee a month to keep it clean and have it patrolled.

"They can't afford [to rent] shops, they are trying to make a living and they are being honest. We just really feel for this guy," the couple said.

Another News24 user, Francois Minnie, said he had more than 200 books he was ready to hand over to Mavimbela. Minnie said he and his wife were avid readers and had built up a library with more than 1 000 books over the years and were looking to share their treasures with others.

Being a business owner himself, Minnie supported and understood Mavimbela's entrepreneurial spirit.

"From an entrepreneur's point of view, I think it's a cool thing to do. There is so much unemployment in this country, you need to give them a head start.

"These okes are standing up and doing something for themselves. Even if it's old books, people still want to read, then give it to them. I think it's brilliant. They need more support from government. There is so much crime out there."

Minnie owned a picture framing company and said he would even add a number of frames that had gone unused to assist Mavimbela boost his sales.

(Griffin Shea, News24 Correspondent)


JMPD spokesperson Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said the city respected honest traders such as Mavimbela who were contributing to the community. However, by-laws were by-laws.

"JMPD appreciates the activity of this particular trader because not only is he selling to make a living, but he is also selling material which is to the benefit of society. However when it comes to street trading, there is no differentiation between a street trader who sells vegetables and a street trader who sells clothing, shoes, cellphones or books.

"A street trader is a street trader and unfortunately in the by-laws we are saying to all street traders you cannot trade in an area which is not designated for trading," Minnaar said.

Trading was prohibited on pavements that were not wide enough, next to any government building, next to a place of worship, near a fire hydrant, in front of a park or at the entrance of a store.

Mavimbela could approach the department's head of by-law management to discuss a suitable area where he could conduct his business with no hassle from the metro cops, he said.

"[The manager] will help him find a space where he can trade without contravening the by-laws. He can still have a meaningful business but it must just be away from that space where he is currently trading.

"He cannot trade in a space where people have to walk around him," Minnaar said.

In the meantime, Mavimbela could collect his books from the department's storage room, where confiscated items were kept.

Any confiscated item could be reclaimed from the department within 24 hours, after payment of a R250 fine. Traders who failed to collect their items within 24 hours were charged an additional storage fee of R65 per day, and if items were not collected within three months, they became the property of the state, Minnaar confirmed.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  local government

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