Joburg punishes hawkers for trusting city, displaced traders argue

2013-11-25 16:46

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Displaced street traders fighting Johannesburg’s Operation Clean Sweep in court have lashed out at the city’s attempt to deny them an urgent hearing tomorrow morning as “misconceived and cynical”.

The city is essentially punishing traders for trusting the city to begin with, they argue.

The city of Johannesburg filed court papers on Saturday arguing that the cases, brought by two separate groups of traders last Tuesday, be scrapped from the urgent roll.

That would most likely mean only getting heard next year, leaving traders at the mercy of the city's plan to re-admit some of them to the city.

The nearly 2?000 traders are seeking urgent interim relief allowing them back on their previous trading spots – and then a thorough review of the whole Clean Sweep initiative.

They argue that the interim relief is necessary because the displaced traders are effectively destitute and the “balance of convenience” favours them being allowed to trade while the coming legal battle unfolds.

If the matter really was urgent, the traders should have taken the city to court immediately instead of holding protest marches, argues Gerald Dumas, the city’s chief operations officer, in his affidavit.

Clean Sweep began on October 1 and immediately caused an outcry when as many as 8?000 legitimate and illegitimate traders were removed from the inner city by police en masse.

The Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) has since physically destroyed the city-provided metal trading stands in many locations that had previously been formally allocated to the traders.

“At no stage during the said month (October) did the applicants take any urgent steps to protect and enforce their rights,” says Dumas.

The largest group of traders tackling the city in court, the South African Informal Traders’ Forum (SAITF), has called the argument “misconceived and cynical” in its own replying affidavit filed earlier today.

“Mr. Dumas’ suggestion that ... this application lacks urgency is, with respect, astonishing,” says SAITF secretary Brian Phaaloh.

According to Phaaloh it is “besides the point” that Clean Sweep started on October 1.

“Until just two weeks ago there was no indication at all that Operation Clean Sweep was anything more than a temporary interruption of the applicants’ trading activities.”

Only on November 14 did SAITF’s lawyers discover that the city had no intention of allowing some traders to return to their previous demarcated spots in the city, he claims.

Until then the city had presented Clean Sweep as an attempt to weed out illegitimate traders which would unfortunately inconvenience legitimate ones temporarily, SAIFT argues.

It was constantly held that the legitimate traders, who have city-issued permits, would “imminently” return to the streets, they say.

Now the city is basically telling the court that traders were wrong to trust the city in the first place and should have immediately rejected its initiative to re-verify traders before they knew its true outcome, argues Phaaloh.

“Mr. Dumas suggests that, because the applicants accepted these undertakings, took the respondents at their word ... and did not immediately rush to this court ... we should now be deprived of an urgent hearing,” says Phaaloh.

The SAITF reply to the city agrees to having the second part of their application, to review Clean Sweep in its entirety, heard on the normal court roll.

On that front they argue that the city’s removal of legitimate and illegitimate traders without actually invoking by-laws in any individual case is “brazenly unlawful”.

They also reject the city’s apparent plan to declare parts of the city where street trade had been allowed as no-trading zones while relocating traders to as yet undisclosed new areas.

The city has indicated that its full legal response will “demonstrate that all legal and policy considerations were followed in the attempts to regulate informal trading in the CBD and to root out all the traders without permission”.

The city also claims it can show that Clean Sweep did not come out of the blue, but was “a culmination of an extended period of consultations between the city and the street traders”.

Meanwhile, the non-profit Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI), which is representing SAITF in court, has promised to institute damage claims against JMPD officers who alledgedly manhandled, spat on and verbally abused traders on Friday afternoon.

A Mozambican trader had most of her hair pulled out by an officer in retribution for taking photos of the JMPD chasing traders from the street, alleges SERI.

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