Scores of informal traders marched along Vootrekker Road last week to protest about crime and grime in the businesses centres of Bellville and Parow.
Close to 200 traders joined the march and handed over a petition listing their grievances to the Parow police station commander Colonel Teboho Jacobs.
Jameela Moodley, chairwoman of the Western Cape Informal Traders’ Coalition and an executive member of the Western Cape Informal Traders, has traded in the area for 15 years. She said traders were most worried about drugs being “freely sold” in the places where they were trying to do business.
“Robberies have reached dire proportions with thieves no longer approaching people with knives, but instead guns are being used to intimidate and rob them,” she said.
“The thieves are also now operating in bigger groupings of six to eight people. There is a severe lack of police visibility.”
Ms Moodley said response times from Parow police and City law enforcement were too slow.
“We have to call them, sometimes up to eight times before they come out and when they do, it is too late.”
She said she was proud that all the shops near the train station in the Parow CBD had stayed shut during the march.
“They closed in solidarity with our cause,” she said.
“We marched from Shoprite in Parow, along Voortrekker Road to the Parow police station where we handed over our memorandum to Colonel Teboho Jacobs, who signed and acknowledged our concerns.”
Colonel Jacobs had promised to respond to the group within the next two weeks, she said.
“I heard about close to 30 robberies that have taken place in and around Parow train station since the start of the year. However, one must remember that many of these robberies are not being reported,” Ms Moodley said.
“Illegal traders” were also a concern, she said. “These illegal traders sell CDs and other goods. When they are arrested, just like the drug pedlars, they are back on the street corners in less than an hour.”
Representatives of informal traders from elsewhere in the city – including Mitchell’s Plain, Bishop Lavis, Grand Parade, Bellville, Khayelitsha and Mfuleni, had joined the march, she said.
“They all came and gave their support because they are experiencing the same problems,” she said.
Margaret Fredericks, representing the Bellville informal traders, said: We sit with the same challenges. They sell drugs openly like they are selling sweets. The sad part is that I have heard that there are cops that also buy drugs from them.”
Ms Fredericks runs a food stall in Bellville and has been trading there for 26 years. She said the police needed to be a lot more visible in the area.
“I have also heard that these drug pedlars have informants who tell them about police raids. When police raid the area, there are no drug dealers to be found.”
She also complained that there were more illegal traders in Bellville than there were legal ones.
“Bellville CBD is also a mess. It’s very dirty, and we don’t have access to proper ablution facilities because the City’s cleaning contract allegedly expired,” she said.
Rosheda Muller, president of the South African Informal Traders’ Association (SAITA), said the authorities seemed to be ignoring their concerns.
“Close to 70% of the traders are women who have children and don’t want to see their children go hungry. I don’t see enough police presence in Parow,” she said.
She had noticed many young children loitering in the area, and when she spoke to them, they told her they had been expelled from school
“I later found out that gangsters use them to steal. Informal traders are also having to deal with a lack of infrastructure in terms of their structures and ablution facilities,” she said.
Bellville police spokeswoman Lieutenant-Colonel Fienie Nimb said the Bellville CBD as well as Voortrekker and lower Voortrekker roads were responsible for most of the crime in the precinct.
“Cops are regularly sent out to patrol the area and police and law enforcement make arrests on a daily basis,” she said.
Lieutenant-Colonel Nimb said police had found incidences where stallholders held drugs for drug dealers. And responding to the allegation that police officers were buying drugs in the Bellville CBD, she said:
“Corruption is alive. However, we cannot act on perception or rumours without any tangible evidence, and we are calling on people to come forward with evidence that we would then investigate.”
Derek Bock, the CEO of the Voortrekker Road Corridor Improvement District (VRCID), advised informal traders to form a committee among themselves and to meet with SAPS to share their experiences of crime.
“Secondly, to assist the SAPS, the informal traders should possibly look at appointing their own type of security. The VRCID has written to the City to look at appointing security officers in the CBD of Bellville, but that these officers must then report to the VRCID.
“It is no use in appointing security officers and they are not trained to deal with the criminal element.
“Then, lastly, there are a number of illegal informal traders and they should be removed by the City as they have the mandate to do so,” he said.
Parow police spokesman Captain Kevin Williams said they would respond to the traders’ grievances after examining their petition in detail.