Despite condemnation from numerous groups, the police say they have been successful in "cleaning" the Johannesburg city centre's streets of hawkers.
Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) spokesperson Edna Mamonyane was an upbeat woman this week. She was excited and proud of how the streets of Johannesburg's city centre looked after a recent "clean sweep" operation, which has seen at least 6 000 hawkers barred from trading in the city.
Despite condemnation from various quarters about the abrasive treatment of the hawkers, Mamonyane felt that this time around, the city got it right.
"We told them [hawkers] three weeks before we started this operation that we would be removing people trading illegally in the city. We met hawker organisations and various other stakeholders to warn them of this coming operation," Mamonyane said emphatically.
Mamonyane refuted suggestions that by saying the city is "clean" she is inevitably suggesting that the people are the dirt.
"All we are saying is that the streets of Johannesburg were a nightmare. People were trading on the sidewalks and forcing people to walk on the road. The streets were clustered and congested and now it looks clean," Mamonyane says.
She says the operation had just started and that the next move would be to go for building hijackers.
Thabo Rangwaga, spokesperson for Roslynn Greeff, a member of the mayoral committee responsible for Development Planning on Region F, said they discovered that only 800 spaces are legally demarcated for street traders but as much as 2 500 smart cards were in the informal trader's possession.
"This was against the reality that, alarmingly, 8 000 traders were identified to be active in this very same space. This startling discovery not only necessitated an immediate audit into the legitimacy of smart cards and legality of all active informal traders, but also an initiation of discussions with the 'legal' traders in an aim to collectively resolve the above matter," Rangwaga said.
Meanwhile, traders can brace themselves for a bleak festive season. Mamonyane promised that the police would sustain their operation right through to next year.
Even though Mamonyane said they did the operation jointly with South African Revenue Service, Pikitup and Johannesburg Roads Agency, there were no signs of the others on the streets except JPMD officers ensuring that the traders do not return to the streets.
A drive around Johannesburg's streets is testament that many hawkers have relented and left the sides of the roads. But others still defiantly sell on the streets and run away upon spotting a JMPD police vehicle.
Eritrea-born Teum Russon operates a small shop on Jeppe Street. He sells women's hand bags and pays R5 000 rent for his small shop. He is not happy with the operation by the city.
"To be honest, I am not happy. Business has now slowed down. Having people selling things on the streets was enhancing our business, as you would have a person selling belts outside my store and his customers would then get inside my shop almost intuitively. But now you can see, there are few people," Russon said.
France Madiba, who operates a pie business on Twist Street, explained the hawkers were his customers.
"The problem is that our biggest customers here were those hawkers," says Madiba. "Now that they are gone I have only sold 100 pies since morning. People come to buy from the hawkers they inevitable find themselves buying from us as well," Madiba continued.
But for Thandi Dlamini, who just arrived from Durban, the streets looked "refreshingly clean and nice". She is a student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and is visiting a friend in Soweto.
Dlamini said she was very surprised to find Johannesburg so clean.
"To be honest whatever they did here is good. I can now walk on the streets without worrying about being mugged even during day light," explains Dlamini.
Draft inner city roadmap
The draft inner city roadmap, which is meant to be a basis for co-operative interventions and management to the city, states in part that a strategy that supports livelihoods through the enablement of the second economy in the inner city needs to be twinned with measures to protect the health and safety conditions of informal business development and their spaces, and to manage the environment where informal business takes place. The roadmap was categorical that cleaning was not about the removal of the traders.
"The development of markets must be undertaken in conjunction with the management of trading located in inappropriate spaces," reads the roadmap in part.
Mamonyane protested that the police hsa not confiscated any items from the traders.
"Unlike in previous operations, this time we did not take anything. All we did was ask people to leave," she said emphatically.
This operation has been likened to Rudi Juliano's, New York mayor's zero tolerance clean-up of New York. On Monday, Cosatu, the African Diaspora Forum street traders representative Greeff, Johannesburg mayor's chief of staff Anthony Selepe, and mayoral committee member Ruby Matang met to discuss hawker's demands to return to work.
But the meeting deadlocked after the hawkers were told that the city was still "busy formulating a relocation plan", and that until then, the operation would continue.
"We are going to maintain these streets like this till January next year," Mamonyane said, officially declaring a bleak Christmas for many of the street traders who made their living by selling on the streets.
Jean-Pierre Lukamba of the African Diaspora Forum said that they were not opposed to cleaning up of the city, but "it is inappropriate for the city to copy and paste a developed country model in a developing country such as South Africa".
He said that traders were being removed from managed areas such as Kerk and Joubert streets where there are no complaints from the public, no grime or obstructions.
Johannesburg-based urban planner Tanya Zack wrote to the city to protest the removal of street traders, reminding the city of the roadmap's dictates not to treat hawkers badly.
"I object strongly to the idea that the operation under way is in any way a 'cleaning' of the inner city or that it complies with any existing economic or spatial or urban management policy," Zack wrote to the city about the removal of traders. Meanwhile, MPs were this week urged to involve their constituents in a national dialogue on the future shape of urban South Africa.
"I want to call on all members of this House, across party lines, to get involved – and also to involve their constituencies – in a national dialogue on the future of our cities and towns," Deputy Co-operative Governance Minister Andries Nel said in the National Assembly. Referring to the recently released Integrated Urban Development Framework discussion document, he noted that six in 10 South Africans currently lived in urban areas. This figure would rise to seven in 10 by 2030.
Manqoba Nxumalo is the Mail & Guardian's Eugene Saldanha Fellow for social justice reporting in 2013 sponsored by CAF Southern Africa