South Africa: Immigrant traders in Gauteng fear for their safety after wave of xenophobic attacks


Immigrant traders in Gauteng say they fear for their lives.

This follows the harassment of immigrant traders about two weeks ago in Johannesburg by a group called Operation Dudula.

According to the South African Informal Traders Alliance, a shortage of trading space has also caused a rift between South African and immigrant traders.

The City of Johannesburg said it was reviewing informal trading policy to create more designated spaces for informal traders.

Migrant shopkeepers in Johannesburg say they are operating their stalls in fear for their safety and livelihoods amid threats of attack by a xenophobic group.

The SA Informal Traders Alliance (SAITA) urged the government to intervene.

“There are a lot of foreign workers. They are our colleagues. Who gives anyone the right to harass and psychologically torment our colleagues? asks Rosheda Muller, president of SAITA.

The alliance, which represents around two million informal traders across South Africa, has expressed concern about harassment of immigrant traders, which broke out around two weeks ago in Johannesburg. A group operating as Operation Dudula (“push back” in isiZulu) forcibly evicted immigrant traders from the Bara Taxi Rank in Diepkloof, Soweto.

Muller said the state and the informal sector should work together to reach a solution.

Muller said many more people now depend on the informal sector to earn a living. According to Statistics SA’s quarterly labor force survey, the official unemployment rate was 35% in the third quarter of 2021.

A shortage of retail space has also caused a rift between traders, Muller said. She suggested that more markets be opened and that regulations be implemented.

Operation Dudula began around June 2020 when posters under its banner began circulating on social media, calling for action against immigrants. The harassment of traders began in Soweto and spread to other communities in Gauteng including Rosettenville and Turffontein.

GroundUp spoke with a Soweto resident who participated in Operation Dudula. The man, who asked that his identity be withheld, says he only joined the movement because foreigners have opportunities that locals are apparently denied. “Our own people are suffering and unemployed. When you get in a taxi and go to a store, you are driven and served by a stranger. Why aren’t these jobs given to our people?” He asked.

Some shopkeepers outside the Jabulani Mall in Soweto told GroundUp they have been working in fear since a call to action against immigrants was rumored on social media.

“We heard that on January 22, Operation Dudula will come to Jabulani. For about four days I didn’t set up my stall because I was afraid they would come and take my stock,” a woman said. who has been trading since 2013. She sells socks, hats and wooden spoons to support herself and her two children.

“The money I lost those days affected my ability to put food on the table. I’ve set up my stall now but I’m still scared because they [Operation Dudula] could come anytime,” she said.

A Zimbabwean shopkeeper said, “We can’t even run in the mall for security reasons because if there is a commotion outside, the mall will close and the doors will be locked. We came to work in fear.

According to Pat Horn of Women in Informal Employment, one of the main sources of tension between South Africans and immigrants is the municipality’s failure to enforce informal trade regulations.

“The lack of equal treatment and compliance creates fertile ground for bribes, where people who pay [officials] get better treatment,” Horn said in an online discussion hosted by SAITA on Jan. 25.

Last year, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) released the Public Space Exchange Guidelines for Local Government. The purpose of these guidelines is to help local governments carry out their mandate with respect to commerce in the public space.

The recommendations include provisions for the inclusion of the voices of South African and immigrant traders in decision-making. This, according to the guidelines, should be “led by bottom-up approaches to address real needs” in the informal sector.

Muller said she is glad that SALGA has released guidelines for local governments and hopes they will be implemented.

In response to questions about harassment of immigrant traders, the City of Johannesburg told GroundUp that it is reviewing its informal trade policy. The City indicated that it would consider SALGA’s proposals.

“There are plans to expand commercial spaces to accommodate the growing informal commercial sector.

“There are also new taxi stands, such as the Johannesburg International Transport Interchange and the Florida Taxi Stand in Roodepoort, which will accommodate traders. The city is in the process of allocating traders to the Traders Market from Jabulani to Jabulani Mall,” the city said.

In response to concerns raised by immigrant shopkeepers, the city said the Joburg Metropolitan Police Department – responsible for enforcing city bylaws – will ensure that “shopkeepers allocate space in [areas] will continue to trade without being harassed or attacked by anyone”.

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