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IPS: Thousands of Traders Might Lose Jobs as Market Turns into Mall

Thousands of Traders Might Lose Jobs as Market Turns into Mall

DURBAN, Apr 20 (IPS) – Hundreds of traders at the Early Morning market in Durban fear the municipality’s plans to turn the area into an upscale shopping mall that will cost them their livelihoods. The redevelopment is one of many currently underway in South Africa’s urban centres to upgrade city infrastructure for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

“We are for the upgrade of the precinct, but we want all stakeholders, including ourselves, to be consulted,” said Roothren Moodley, member of the Warwick Junction Precinct Plan Stakeholders Forum. “But instead of consulting with us, the city council has steamrolled its plans onto us.”

The eThekwini Municipality plans to transform the Warwick Junction market into a mall geared towards a middle class clientele. The market is well-known as a place where poor South Africans can purchase fresh fruit and vegetable cheaply. It is located in the heart of the city and can be easily accessed using public transport.

The 674 traders who currently sell their wares at the market will be temporarily relocated to a building in nearby Alice Street, until city officials have identified a new location for them.

But the traders say the new building can only house 150 stalls – less than a quarter of the traders currently operating from the Early Morning market. “The municipality will give a few traders preference and the rest of us will be left with nothing,” complained Moodley.

“People are very worried,” agreed stallholder Iraivan Naidoo. “Each stall has two to three workers, which means that almost 2,000 people’s income will be in danger. What are they doing to our people?”

City officials, however, believe the traders have nothing to complain about. “There was more than enough consultation. We have held several meetings [with traders] since January 2009 and we will consider their input,” claimed acting head of the eThekwini Business Support Unit, Philip Sithole.

He says he asked the traders to submit a list of their needs to the municipality.

“As long as the traders are legal, they will not be [negatively] affected by the relocation to [a building in] Alice Street. We will accommodate all of them,” Sithole promised. “I don’t know what their problem is. If they have issues, they need to talk to us.”

He added the municipality was about to conduct a feasibility study to find a long-term alternative to house the traders.

Pat Horn, coordinator of Durban-based street vendor association StreetNet International, sees the situation differently: “We have been trying to engage the municipality since November 2007, but they have completely and stubbornly refused to meet with us.”

“They have also sabotaged our efforts to make the concerns of the vendors public every single step along the way,” she added, noting that every time the traders applied for permission to hold marches or vigils to protest the mall, they were denied authorisation by the municipality.

Horn explained the traders are “more than willing” to agree on feasible alternatives. “We are not against progress of infrastructural development but against doing it by destroying people’s livelihoods,” she said.

The traders have now decided to stick to their guns and resist the municipal relocation plans. “We are not moving from here until we have clarity on what will happen to us,” declared Harry Ramlal, chairperson of the Stakeholders Forum. “We want [the municipality to make us] a permanent, viable proposition, backed up by a feasibility study.”

Ramlal stressed the fact that the traders are “not against development” but insist on a democratic decision making process that involves stakeholder consultation, as stipulated in the Municipalities Act of 2000.

“We want a centrally located, safe place with space for everyone,” Ramlal told IPS. The municipality’s current proposition to move the traders temporarily for four months will cost ratepayers hundreds of thousands of Rands [tens of thousands of US Dollars], while not securing traders’ livelihoods in the long-term, he further explained.

Vegetable stallholder Million Phehlukwayo and his wife Claudia say they are hugely concerned about the future of their family as well as the families of their seven employees. “Our income supports my extended family of 15. If the mall project is realised, we will be left in the dark. We don’t have a Plan B,” says Phehlukwayo.

He is disappointed by the decisions of government officials he says he has voted into power. “The city says ‘Let’s work together’, but it’s all pretence. They are not working with us. I don’t understand why we are not part and parcel of this. We also have the right to benefit from the 2010 World Cup,” Phehlukwayo added.

Traders have been selling fruit and vegetables at the Warwick Junction Early Morning market for almost a century – since 1910. Most of them are third or fourth generation merchants who have inherited their business from their grandparents or great-grandparents.

Warwick Junction merchants largely come from low-income groups, are minimally educated, and the majority of them is illiterate. “Most of us will not be able to get jobs if we lose the market, and most of us live from day to day,” lamented Naidoo.

“We are rooted here historically and believe it is immoral to suddenly threaten our livelihoods,” said Moodley who took over his stall from his grandmother a couple of decades ago.

“We don’t understand why we need another mall when there are already five or six malls within a ten kilometre radius,” said Naidoo.

Naidoo believes eThekwini Municipality is out to make a quick buck by leasing what will become the Warwick Junction Mall Ltd to a private developer for $2.5 million over 50 years – a figure the municipality released as part of a public notice. He is convinced if the municipality would support the traders, it could even make more money in the long term.

“Currently, the market makes R100,000 [$11.000] in surcharge revenue. This would add up to R60 million [$6.61] in 50 years,” he explained.