Mess at the market

2012-05-10 00:00

THE Pietermaritzburg Fresh Produce Market in Mkhondeni is becoming a white elephant, with traders choosing to make their bulk fruit and vegetable purchases in Durban instead of from the local facility, which they say is dilapidated and short-staffed.

Market agent Johan Prigge, a partner in Natalia Markagente, said he is at the end of his tether with the market’s “dysfunctional” cashing system and the lack of security and maintenance.

“It’s chasing away buyers,” he said.

Prigge and other agents operating on the floor question whether revenue earned from the market is reinvested in the facility.

The agents said the problem was that their municipal colleagues did not understand the fresh produce industry.

“The only way I see out is to privatise the market,” said Stanley Ward, Prigge’s business partner.

“Farmers, agents and buyers must take over. We’re planning to do that. We’ve got to. Things cannot continue the way they are now.

Last week, market staff informed the agents that the market would be shut on Saturdays in future due to the lack of cashiers.

But this decision was reversed after the agents protested.

The market operated with two cashiers last Saturday instead of the usual three or four.

The municipality promised that two more would be provided this weekend.

A major criticism of the buyers is the system they have to use to make their purchases. They said they were made to deposit money before making purchases, which they declared on leaving the market.

They were entitled to change if there was money left over. However, the market sometimes took up to four days to process refunds, the agents said.

“They say they cannot balance their books [in time],” said Prigge.

The agents said the market was not maintained adequately, creating a safety hazard.

The Witness found that a roof at a loading platform has collapsed, huge, heavy gates are held by precarious mountings that need reinforcement, security cameras have been stolen, gutters have disappeared and the toilets are in a filthy state.

When there are thefts, agents have to pay for the losses themselves, they said.

“The floor has not been cleaned in a while because the cleaning machine is broken,” Ward added.

Peter and Company director Mike Elliot said agents made up to R22 million a month, of which the municipality took about five percent(R2,27 million). However, there were several vacant posts at the market.

“The municipality is not prepared to make sacrifices, yet it wants the money,” Elliot added.

Prigge and Ward agreed, saying the money earned by the municipality was not being invested in the market.

The agents met municipal manager Mxolosi Nkosi to discuss their grievances last month.

However, the changes Nkosi proposed “are not big enough or quick enough”, Elliot said.

He added that the market had not been revamped since 1962.

Jose de Jesus, who owns four supermarkets in Pietermaritzburg and buys produce for two others on the coast, said he had ditched the Mkhondeni market for one in Durban.

He said Pietermaritzburg market often had only one cashier operating.

“Go to the Durban market, which is clean and there are guards. Pietermaritzburg residents are now buying in Durban. I’m not talking about just one or two, but a lot of them,” De Jesus added.

Elliot said some buyers who spent almost R2 million a month had left the market.

“We can’t lose buyers like this,” he said.

Municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma admitted there were several problems at the market.

He said that the municipality was about to employ two temporary cashiers.

Asked about progress since Nkosi had visited the market, Zuma said: “Miracles are not going to happen, but this matter is being discussed at the highest level to try and find solutions”.

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