Beer hall traders take city to court

2017-04-24 14:56
Committee for 104 traders wants businesses back after eMatsheni Beer Hall that was demolished in December last year.

Committee for 104 traders wants businesses back after eMatsheni Beer Hall that was demolished in December last year. (File)

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A legal showdown is on the cards between former traders at the Ematsheni beer hall, which was forcibly closed down at the end of last year, and Msunduzi Municipality.

Six former traders at Ematsheni and a committee calling itself “The Matsheni Members”, which claims to represent 104 ex-traders, have brought an application in the Pietermaritzburg high court.

One leg of this application seeks to review and declare the decision to evict traders at the beer hall to be unlawful and to set it aside.

The other calls on Msunduzi to give “first preference” to listed traders for space to conduct their businesses at any contemplated new development to be erected at the old Ematsheni site at 74 Retief Street.

Should the contemplated development at the new premises not be considered “conducive, suitable or adequate” to house all of the 104 listed traders, then the court has been asked to order Msunduzi to provide them with alternative accommodation for their businesses.

The case came briefly before the high court on March 23 but was adjourned indefinitely to give Msunduzi a chance to reply, because the municipality gave notice of its intention to oppose the matter. However to date Msunduzi has not filed answering papers.

But Dr Ray Ngcobo (general manager, sustainable development and city enterprises) told The Witness on Friday “this is a matter we will definitely be defending”.

He said a legal team has been appointed to look into all aspects of the matter and to advise the municipality accordingly.

Dr Ngcobo said he has not personally had sight of the high court papers and said it would not be appropriate for him to respond in the press to any specific aspect arising from the court papers.

Constance Zondi describes herself on affidavit as one of the oldest former traders at “the Matsheni”.

Zondi took over her mother Edna Makhatini’s food business when she died in 1972 and ran it until the traders were forcibly evicted on December 28 last year, she said.

“There was tremendous camaraderie and kinship shared between the traders … the traders regard each other as family,” she said.

Zondi said the traders made a “good honest living” and supported the local businesses and community by providing a place for workers to have “lunch or a quick snack”.

In the 1990s the traders successfully opposed a move by the municipality to move them to the beer hall in East Street.

Zondi recalls that in about 1988 the then city council had leased the Matsheni to the Small Business Development Corporation and it underwent renovations. Traders paid a monthly rental of R28 for their premises. The then mayor of Pietermaritzburg, Mark Cornell, was a guest of honour at the official opening ceremony.

Zondi said many important documents pertaining to the traders’ leases were lost when they were “unlawfully evicted” and the Mathsheni was demolished last December.

According to Zondi, the council provided security guards for the beer hall until 2005 when “without warning” Msunduzi withdrew its guards. The Matsheni committee thereafter collected R10 from each shop or table to pay for their own security, and in 2006 had replaced the gates which were removed by criminal elements.

Zondi said while Msunduzi has cited the high crime rate as the reason for evicting traders and demolishing the beer hall, traders were not responsible for crime in the area. “In fact we assisted the SAPS with fighting crime,” she said.

Zondi said on December 27 Msunduzi disconnected the electricity and water supply “without warning” and at 6 am the next day officials returned and “chased traders and patrons” out. Assisted by the SAPS, KSA security prevented people from re-entering the premises. “We were shocked, dismayed and traumatised,” she said.

Zondi alleges that at no time were traders served with court orders authorizing their eviction from the premises and that the municipality “took the law into their own hands”.

Because the building was almost immediately demolished, traders could not apply to court to return.

Big plans for modern building

Dr Ray Ngcobo confirmed that Msunduzi does have “very big plans” for what he termed a “modern architectural structure” to replace the old Ematsheni beer hall, which will “change the face of the downtown area”.

Dr Ngcobo said ideally the new development will cater for “all forms of trade” and capture the city’s very diverse markets.

“It will include even the muthi traders, of which there are many,” he said.

"Rich and colourful history"

IN court papers trader Constance Zondi painted a picture of the beer hall’s long “rich and colourful history” and said all the traders, including herself inherited their businesses from family members involved from the Matsheni’s inception around 1912.

“The beer hall was a huge hall where African men would come and sit down to drink Zulu beer

“A variety of traders plied their trade there selling food, Zulu attire, knitted garments and other businesses.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  ematsheni beer hall

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