Uncertainty looms for 600 street vendors stripped of a place to sell their wares in Denneboom, Mamelodi, after the City of Tshwane and the development company, Isibonelo Property Services, failed to obey a court order to provide an appropriate alternative trading area.
After almost 60 years in the area, traders’ stalls were destroyed overnight to make way for the construction of a mall opposite traffic-choked Tsamaya Road in Mamelodi.
Mary Choma, chairperson of the traders group, explains the trauma of waking up to nothing and realising she had lost her livelihood. “In the middle of the night, they dug a hole. They took out the paving, the fence, electricity, ablutions … When we came in the morning, it was a surprise to us,” she says.
Choma started working in the area in 1978. She says the eviction took place without warning. “We inherited this business from our parents and we created work. Denneboom is the only place where the Mamelodi community, when they are faced with unemployment, can come and sell to make a living.”
In the wake of ‘progress’
Anna Thipe, 63, started working in Denneboom in 1972. She says she has never been formally employed, and started working alongside her parents when she was in school. “We do want the mall, but we want to have shops inside the mall. We were the first to start operating here. They saw through us that money can be made here, so the sad thing is that we worked hoping to create a future only for people who already have money to kick us out,” she explains through an incessant, chesty cough.
Hellen Monyane, 55, had a spaza shop where she sold meat, cold drinks, fish and chips, and fruit and vegetables. When stalls and shops were raided and demolished in an effort to vacate traders in late 2016, her stock was damaged or lost.
Monyane, who started trading in Denneboom after being retrenched as a security guard in 1990, says she fell ill after she realised she had lost everything and would no longer make her R15 000 monthly income. “How come they build so many malls in such a small place? Mamelodi is not that big,” asks Monyane, referring to the other two malls nearby.
Fixing her eyes squarely on the mall and fighting back the tears, Monyane says, “I have nothing … it hurts. How will I live? This is where we made a living, this is where we worked.” Then, crying, adds, “We are suffering now, even to pay school fees or taxi fare for kids to go to college … I don’t know what to tell my grandson.”
Brenda Fassie’s Too Late for Mama bellows through the corners of the Mamelodi taxi rank, which buzzes with movement and indistinct chatter. A Volkswagen Velocity taxi doing the local rounds, hoots loudly while cutting off Quantum minibuses heading to town.
The late 2016 demolitions left traders scattered everywhere – the taxi rank, the train station and in front of the hostel on Tsamaya Road. Today, they include hairdressers and barbers, and stalls selling fruit and vegetables, clothes, colourful bags, trendy cosmetics, meat and snacks.
Before construction on the mall began, Choma says there were ablution facilities, running water and electricity, all of which benefitted taxi drivers and commuters.
She looks over at two tightly clustered groups of men, obscuring their activities from inquisitive eyes. “It’s gambling,” she says with a chagrined smile. “People are frustrated – they don’t have stalls now. It’s dice, cards, anything to keep them alive,” she says.
No reprieve in sight
In 2017, the North Gauteng High Court ordered the City of Tshwane and the developers to find an alternative area for the traders, and to provide them with facilities similar to those they had. The court also said that potential customers had to be redirected to the new vending area.
But Choma says that whereas most of her customers used to come straight to her stall from the train station, the alternative space provided is far away from the bustling human traffic and is inadequately equipped.
A handful of traders have moved into the 40 alternative stands consisting of shipping containers set up there. The containers encircle a smaller, almost deserted taxi rank, acting as a buffer between the railway track and a fence for the new mall. Worst of all, the new area is right in front of a rubbish dump.
“This is an insult to us … There is no business here, there are no people here, there is only the possibility of crime,” says Choma, pointing out that 40 containers are not enough for all of the traders.
Thipe used to buy goods in bulk, often reselling stock to others. Because of the high costs of transporting goods from Marabastad and Johannesburg, people would often buy from her, she says. She made up to R25 000 a month, which helped put her children through school.
“We used to create jobs, too, because we had helpers who would work while we went to go buy stock,” Monyane chimes in.
Across Tsamaya Road, next to the new building, stands a barren field of weeds, rubbish and red soil. A few street traders have set up under plastic and wooden structures along a congested path leading to the train station.
Hendrick Malokela, 40, sells cooked meals from a makeshift stall. He has re-erected his structure each time it has been demolished, saying that the arrival of the mall has changed his life.
“I was selling clothes and cosmetics, but now because of the situation, I am selling food … Business is very down right now, so because everyone needs food, I changed business,” he says. His earnings have dwindled. He tries not to overstock because business is bad and his capital is low.
Malokela says many people have lost considerable income, and some still struggle. He says he still cries when he thinks about how they were removed, and that the street traders need to be compensated. “We lost stock, we lost everything … We don’t know who can help us. We are in court right now.”
Inside the station, rows of fresh produce and electronic goods have been set up on each side of a tunnel made of shipping containers. Some traders have set up here, hoping to attract customers leaving the station. But the conditions are not ideal. There is no ventilation, and rain comes in through holes in the containers.
Fikile “Fiki” Mabuza, 41, one of the traders here, says she is lucky if she makes R100 a day. She used to make R1 500. “My only hope is here,” she says, tending to a customer and sprinkling water on her ripe chillies and spinach to make them appear fresh.
Mabuza says she has three children to feed, her youngest being 12. She says when things are tough, she survives on her child grant, often using it to cover her rent of R452.
The wheels of justice turn slowly
Louise du Plessis of Lawyers for Human Rights told New Frame that relief for traders, in the form of compensation for the demolition of their stalls, the loss of stock and the violation of their constitutional rights, would be delayed by up to a year. The trial kicked off at the North Gauteng High Court in October and will resume once the City manager, and chief executive and manager of Isibonelo have given evidence to disprove the allegations of contempt of court levelled against them.
Choma says that although the traders did not foresee the setback, they still have plans of becoming a big cooperative because they do not intend to be informal forever.
City of Tshwane spokesperson Sam Mgobozi directed New Frame to Randall Williams, the mayoral committee member responsible for economic development and spatial planning, but Williams had not responded by the time of publication.