The pavement is buzzing. It’s alive. A woman is frying mala mogodu on a dustbin lid. There’s an inyanga selling muti and an old granny is knitting, while she keeps an eye on her pile of mealies.
You can buy almost anything at the ‘peoples’ market’ – from brightly coloured plastic earrings to mangoes and magazines, from cakes and combs to peanuts and pocket knives.
“Hey young man, help the customer! I’m busy talking,” an old woman shouts at her helper. She is Mrs Doris Monyai. She sells hats and caps. The sun is hot and a young woman has moved in under Mrs Monyai’s umbrella with her. The young woman sells toilet paper.
The pavement is noisy and cheerful. Somewhere a loud radio is playing and one hawker shouts louder than the next, trying to make a sale: “Look at this lovely pink lipstick, Mama. It matches your dress.”
LOTS OF PROBLEMS
But if you think being a hawker is easy and fun, you are wrong. They don’t just sit around in the sun and watch the pennies fall from heaven. The hours are long and there is not much money around. Many of them have big families to feed.
Last month the Traffic Department made life even harder for the hawkers. Traffic police raided them three times and took their goods – even those with licences.
One hawker who was afraid to tell us her name said that police took R90 worth of fruit from her.
“I have a licence to sell. But they didn’t listen to me, even after I showed it to them. They just took my things and put me in the back of a police van. I was scared because there was a police dog in the back of the van with me. They took me to the police station, but I was not charged with anything. I did nothing wrong.”
The woman never got her fruit back. The police have also taken the magazines of some of the Learn and Teach sellers. One of the sellers, Solly Mashebela, has lost his magazines three times. The first time it happened he was also fined R100. He never got his magazines back.
“We have licences. We are allowed to sell, but we still get arrested. We feel scared when it happens. We live a very hard life,” says Mrs Monyai, the hat seller.
At the end of January, about 300 hawkers marched through the streets of Johannesburg to protest against the raids. They are members of the African Council of Hawkers and Informal Businesses (ACHIB).
ACHIB was started in 1986 by Lawrence Mavundla. He is no stranger to the problems that hawkers have. When he was unemployed, he sold jewellery and cosmetics.
“I know how hawkers feel when the police take away their things. It happened to me and there was nothing I could do. When I found a job, I used to travel past hawkers selling at the Alexandra bus stop. Often I saw police destroy their things,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence knew that as long as the hawkers stood alone they had no chance. So he spoke to hawkers about starting an organisation to protect themselves. That is how ACHIB was born.
“Hawkers do not ask for hand-outs. All they ask is the chance to earn a living. Many people without work are forced to start selling. They deserve a chance. Many of them have families to feed and children to educate. Hawking is better than stealing,” Lawrence said.
Some people say hawkers sell because they are too lazy or are afraid of work. Mr Kaiser Mauone says that is not true. He cared for and educated nine children with the money he earned from hawking.
“Now we have an organisation to help us fight for the right to make a living. I am proud of ACHIB and of the President, Lawrence Mavundla. He has brought the hawkers of South Africa together. Perhaps now people will learn to respect hawkers,” Mr Mauone said.
ACHIB’s plan of action for this year is:
To help hawkers get licences.
To lend hawkers money to start selling.
To start training hawkers.
To help members with their daily problems.
“We are always looking for new members. Any hawkers who wants to join us must know that they will be welcome. They will be amongst friends,” Lawrence said.
ACHIB has offices in Soweto, Alexandra, Vereeniging, Tembisa, Pretoria and Empangeni. The Johannesburg offices of ACHIB are in Room 803, Medical Towers, Jeppe Street. Or hawkers who want to join can write to ACHIB at: PO Box 4122, Johannesburg 2000.