The KZN provincial government has come under heavy criticism following Tuesday’s clampdown on foreign national-owned shops it claimed were operating illegally, with human rights groups describing the move as xenophobic. “The government knows very well how difficult it is for refugees, whose only means of survival is through participation in the informal trade, to get any official document from government. Demanding trading permits from refugees is cruel and xenophobic to say the least,” Africa Solidarity Network general-secretary Daniel Dunia said.This after KZN Economic Development MEC Sihle Zikalala, accompanied by eThekwini Municipality Mayor Zandile Gumede and a host of government officials, conducted a crackdown on what they described as informal traders around Durban, shutting down businesses they claim were operating illegally.Zikalala said the provincial government would no longer tolerate a situation where traders ignore the country’s laws. “All illegal businesses will be closed in KZN,” Zikalala said.Most township shops, particularly those selling groceries, are owned by foreign nationals, who Dunia claims are refugees who fled from political violence in countries of their origin.“These people do not have any other source of income as it is not easy for them to find any employment in South Africa.“We have been engaging the government on the issue of permits with the hope that the state can find a way to make it easy for refugees to obtain permits, but what we now see is government shutting down businesses without consulting,” Dunia said.However, Zikalala maintained the crackdown was aimed at all businesses operating illegally, irrespective of the owner’s origin.“What we are addressing is the problem of those trading illegally. If the majority of those operating without permits happen to be foreign nationals, then it is just a coincidence,” Zikalala’s spokesperson, Bongani Tembe, said.Zikalala is also the ANC provincial chairperson.The ANC has been under pressure, particularly from township voters, to deal with the influx of foreign national traders in the province’s towns and cities. Local traders had been complaining that their businesses were struggling to stay afloat due to competition from foreign national-run businesses.Zikalala said the crackdown was aimed at protecting legitimate businesses.“This is our drive to regulate trading to ensure fair competition,” he said.However, the Democratic Alliance accused Zikalala and Gumede of harassing the poor.“The insensitivity displayed by Zikalala and Gumede betrays the true extent of how they are out of touch with the everyday struggles of ordinary residents,” DA provincial deputy leader Mergan Chetty said.“Their respective administrations have failed to provide adequate support to small, medium and micro-sizedenterprises (SMMEs) but they still have the temerity to harass them without cause,” said Chetty.The National Freedom Party (NFP) said provincial government should first address the challenges faced by small traders before demanding permits.“The informal business sector should be regulated in a manner that will ensure business sustainability by removing government red tapes,” NFP spokesperson Sabelo Sigudu said.However, Zikalala hailed the crackdown as a success. “We have been able to close down some of the illegal businesses trading without permits. We have removed some of the illegally-erected trading structures. The days of illegal trading are over in KwaZulu-Natal,” the MEC said.