Making ends meet

Monday, August 24, 2015

Pretoria - Rushing customers greet and buy a combo of amagwinya (fat cakes) and hot tea for R6. This is all done in just under three minutes before lining up to catch a taxi or rushing during their daily business.

Standing behind her makeshift table and paraffin stove, with fat cakes on the go is Christina Moshewu, 56. Since 1994, Moshewu has woken up at 3am to travel 90 kilometres from KwaMhlanga in Mpumalanga, to the Pretoria Central Business District (CBD) to sell fat cakes in order to put food on the table for her family.

“I have been doing this since former President Nelson Mandela took over the government. … I was still a young girl back then,” the widowed Moshewu tells SAnews while smiling and packing fat cakes in a transparent plastic bag for one of her consumers.  

With an estimated 4.9 million unemployed South Africans, many like Moshewu are turning to self-employment to get by.

As such, the informal trade - a thriving business in the capital’s CBD - is comprised of hawkers selling food, fresh fruit and vegetables, household goods as well as the latest fashion trends.

Most of these traders who line up in the streets are sole breadwinners in their households.

On a good winter’s day, Moshewu says she makes about R700.

“In winter, people love the smell of hot fat cakes for breakfast but in summer the business is slow and I only take home between R200 and R300.”

With the money, she has managed to send her first born to university.

“With my other children it was difficult because it was the time when the metro police harassed us for permits and I could not make enough to send them to university,” said the smiling Moshewu.

On Monday, when SAnews visited her selling spot, she had just finished counting R730 from the morning sales with the help of Tshwane Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa.

Mayor Ramokgopa and his executive council swapped their formal suits to experience what the informal traders go through on a daily basis selling fat cakes, fruits and snacks, soft goods, food and vegetables.

Speaking to SAnews at the selling spot of another trader Martha Hlongwane, Mayor Ramokgopa said the City of Tshwane considers the informal sector to be a versatile and dynamic sector which contributes to the creation of jobs and alleviation of poverty.

“The informal trading sector makes a valuable contribution to the social and economic development of Tshwane local communities. The City of Tshwane acknowledges the contribution and relevance of informal trading to the economic and social life of the City,” said Mayor Ramokgopa.

Hlongwane from Soshanguve, is also one of the hundreds of women informal traders who wakes up every day at around 4am and desperately tries to make a living from selling soft goods such as pillows, hats and beaded artwork at the busy Helen Joseph and Lillian Ngoyi Streets.

But life for the 63-year-old who sets up her stand from as early as 7am every morning until 6pm has not been easy. Hlongwane says they are in constant log-heads with metro police.

Traders need to pay about R130 for a traders’ licence every month but they claim they are still being bullied by metro police who demand bribes, take their stock and completely disrespect them.

“We face a lot of hardship on the streets as informal traders although we are not hurting or stealing from anyone. We are just trying to put food on the table.”

She said others in her community assume that because she wakes up every morning to set up her spot - she makes a lot of money.

“They do not know that I have stock that I bought in December and days go by without me selling anything. People are not buying goods as they used to back in the days but we understand that times are tough,” she said, adding that sometimes she uses some of her pension money in order to boost her business.

Every morning Hlongwane fetches her merchandise from a storeroom which she rents out for about R50 a week to keep her stock safe, assembles her tent alongside other vendors selling similar products who’ve become family to her regardless of the tight competition.

“It is tough but we have accepted that this is life now. It is better than staying at home.”

Many like Moshewu and Hlongwane have called on the Tshwane municipality to recognise them and that they play an important role in the city’s economy.

They would like to own permanent trashing structures but are weary that the city might charge them more for the trading licence.

Having spent the day with the women traders as part of Women’s Month, Mayor Ramokgopa said he is humbled and moved by the resilience of the traders.

He also made a commitment to work with them and make sure that they become part of the formal sector in the city.

“From here we will be going back to the boardroom to see how best we can resolve their challenges. We want to work with them and we want to assure that they are not going anywhere.

“We are going to work with them and ensure that their businesses grow … we cannot take their bread away from them.”

The challenges such as confiscation of the goods, harassment mentioned by the traders are not new.

The city has already led meetings with the representatives of the traders and the metro police to try and resolve some of the issues.

The money that was generated today will go towards a bursary fund that is being set up to improve the plight of the children of informal traders and advance their educational ambitions.

The fund, which will be unveiled in September, according to the mayor is close to the R1 million mark.  

“We want to break the multi-generational poverty,” he added. -