The city's informal traders say they're the victims of arbitrary, violent removal from their stalls, but Tshwane denies its police harassed them.
As clashes between the Tshwane Metro police and informal traders intensified on Wednesday, the city has denied that its officers are harassing hawkers in the city centre.
The Tshwane Barekisi Forum (TBF), representing informal traders in the capital, continued its protests against what it says is harassment by the Tshwane Metropolitan Police Department on Wednesday.
The forum began picketing on Tuesday, demanding the resignation of City of Tshwane mayor, Kgosientso Ramakgopa, and an end to the harassment of its members. The protests turned violent, with Metro police fleeing the pickets, and demonstrators allegedly threatening them with knopkierries.
Yet both parties have denied responsibility for any of the violence – at the pickets or in previous instances, when hawkers were violently threatened and their goods forcefully taken away.
Informal trader Foster Rivombo was allegedly shot and killed by the Metro police on January 8. The city distanced itself from the incident and said it was waiting for the outcome of ballistics tests to prove that Rivombo was shot by a Metro police officer at all.
Reporting police brutality
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) is investigating the incident. Manale said he did not know if action had been taken against any Metro police officers because of the shooting.
Meanwhile, the IPID confirmed on Wednesday that it has completed its investigation into Rivombo’s death. Directorate spokesperson Moses Dlamini said the docket has been sent to the National Prosecuting Authority and it is awaiting a decision on whether or not to prosecute.
“There is no widespread harassment of hawkers. Otherwise they could have gone to the Human Rights Commission to report police brutality,” said city spokesperson, Blessing Manale, on Wednesday.
He alleged that the pickets were being “hijacked” by local ANC factions, already trying to damage the mayor’s reputation in the run-up to the 2016 local government elections.
“Sometimes you can see people pretending to be informal traders arriving at the picket in a BMW. These people are not traders; they are opportunists,” Manale said.
Forum secretary Eliot Nkadimeng said the “hooligans” who had chased the police were not informal traders. He said the group encouraged the police to arrest those who were involved in the violence, and said the informal traders were committed to protesting peacefully.
‘Clean up the system’
Complicating matters is a moratorium on the issuing of hawking permits by the City of Tshwane, which Manale said was put in place to “clean up the system”.
Manale said the issuing of permits had been “corrupted” and the system was flooded with fraudulent and duplicate permits, making it difficult for the city to monitor the number of hawkers it allows to trade.
Nkadimeng said the city conducted a verification of permits peacefully for about three months. But then the harassment of traders began, and hawkers were arbitrarily removed from their stalls.
He also said the city had not responded to their demands.
“It’s not an operation anymore; it’s harassment,” Nkadimeng said.
But Manale said the city did not recognise the Tshwane Barekisi Forum as a legitimate “umbrella body” for informal traders, and said there were four other, bigger organisations that the city was accustomed to negotiating with.
“We are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, here,” Manale said. He said the “corruption” of the system made it difficult to differentiate between legitimate permits and fraudulent ones. As a result, the city was vulnerable to lawsuits from established businesses who were competing directly with traders, against the city’s by-laws.
He said the city manager briefed the mayoral committee on the picketing, and it was decided on Wednesday that a joint operations centre would be established to deal with the matter.