Firewood sellers fear their livelihoods face the chop

Three men who sell firewood in Monte Vista fear their livelihoods will face the axe if they’re forced to move from their usual spot.

James McQuire, Angus Wagner and Philip America sell the wood on weekends from the corner of Giel Basson Drive and Rothschild Avenue.

Mr Wagner says he has been there for 15 years, Mr McQuire for 25 years and Mr America for 10 years. But now they say they are being forced to move and risk losing loyal customers – some from as far off as Sea Point and Mitchell’s Plain – because residents have complained.

“For us to move now it will really hurt our business, and the site that they are moving us to is not good for us because there are other people there also selling wood,” Mr Wagner said.

Ward councillor Cheryl Visser had told them last month that they would be moved to Plattekloof Road trading bays following complaints from the Monte Vista and Plattekloof Glen Ratepayers’ Association, he said.

The association’s chairman, Pierre Gouws, said: “The residents here do not have any issues with Angus or James, but, during the week, there are a number of other traders that park here, and they are the ones that are causing issues for us. The other traders make noise and park their trucks in a way that people cannot see oncoming cars, which causes a number of accidents. One of the traders also makes use of vagrants to sell their goods, and they end up drinking here and making a complete mess of the field, while there is also a trader that uses children to work there, which makes it look like child slavery is active in the area.”

Mr Gouws said the decision to move the traders to a trading spot 10 minutes from the current one had followed a meeting with law enforcement, the association and Mr Wagner.

“I believe that the new location will be better for Angus, and we have even offered to market the new location for them at no extra cost, yet he remains defiant, and, as a result, it has caused some division in the community as residents are now torn over whether or not to support them.”

Mr Wagner said he and his fellow firewood sellers were an institution in the community.

“The new location is too small for us, and we cannot give the same services that we can do right now. Also, they say that we cannot be here because there are no toilet facilities, but one of the neighbours here allows us to use his toilet, and at the new location there are no toilet facilities for us to use. We feel that we are being treated unfairly because we have been here for so long, and we have also done everything that we have supposed to in terms of getting permits, and we also follow all the sanitising rules.”

When the Northern News visited Mr Wagner on Saturday November 14, at least seven customers pulled up to buy wood while a bakkie was packed for deliveries three times.

One of the customers claimed the only reason Mr Wagner and his partners were being moved was because private residents were selling wood in the area.

GP du Preez, a customer, said: “I live in Ruyterwacht and I have been coming to buy wood on weekends by Angus for more than 10 years. These guys come here and they offer great service and they deserve to be here. If you ask me, this whole nonsense of them leaving is because of jealousy. During lockdown, a few of the houses here are starting to sell wood so now they want to get rid of Angus and the others because they are successful and the others just want to steal their business.”

At the Plattekloof Road site, the Northern News found several traders, including Daniel Long, of Goodwood, who sells wood out of a cold-storage bakkie.

“I have been selling wood for the past few months, and we have only now begun building a customer base. To get guys like Angus here, it will really kill our business,” he said. “We have met with Angus, and we have nothing against him or the others who sell wood in Giel Basson, but we do not want them here because it just does not make business sense. If they are here, then we have to lower our prices to the point that we will be giving our product away without making any money whatsoever.”

Grant Twigg, mayoral committee member for urban management, said lockdown and other issues had stalled the City’s plan to add five more bays to the 15 at the Plattekloof Road trading area.

Numerous attempts to contact Ms Visser were unsuccessful.