SA Spaza and Tuckshop Association (Sasta) president Rose Nkosi has warned that the government’s lax handling of township bylaws might lead to anti-business, Afrophobic attacks again.
Speaking from the organisation’s offices in Dube, Soweto, Nkosi said the township’s informal traders were fuming because of the government’s failure to enforce laws.
“We are definitely on thin ice because the government is lax.
“We have been pleading with them to do the right thing.
“If there were to be xenophobic attacks tomorrow, government would be to blame,” she said, adding that the government was fast to enforce bylaws against locals but seemed not to bother with foreigners.
“The government has allowed foreigners to take over informal trading. What is disheartening is the speed at which the government acts when big business is threatened by foreign competition or businesses.
“For example, when Rainbow Chickens was threatened by foreign competition, the government raised tariffs [tax on foreign goods] to increase the price of cheap chickens imported from Brazil.
“But for us the bylaws punish local traders only. When locals trade in the street, they get chased away and stock is taken away but when foreigners trade at the same place nothing is done.
“They don’t bank, they don’t pay taxes and get preferential treatment from metro police and even health inspectors,” she said.
Some members of her organisation had been chased away from trading near malls in Soweto, only for foreigners to be allowed to trade at the same spot, she said.
Sasta started off with 10 000 members and now has only 3 500. She blamed the decline in membership on the dying businesses in the township.
“Our organisation is shrinking because a lot of people are going out of business and that is what we are fighting against,” said an angry Nkosi.
She said although locally owned businesses faced foreign-owned competitors and major retail malls, it was the foreigners who gave Sasta’s members sleepless nights.
“The malls have killed our general dealers and the foreigners have killed the spaza shops.
“The malls are coming into our spaces because the government officials get shares and get land easily.
“It is shareholding,” she said, adding that the malls also did not let out shops to local businesses and did not contribute to local communities even though they, unlike the foreigner-owned businesses, paid taxes.
Nkosi said besides not complying with the country’s law, the foreign-owned businesses had a meticulous value chain system and supplier syndicate that guaranteed them regular stock from non-traditional warehouses and at very low prices, enabling them to outprice local competitors.
“They don’t employ anyone because they are employees in their syndicates which are run from warehouses.”
Nkosi, who has a background of working for struggle veteran Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in the ANC before democracy, said almost all the foreigners who were running businesses in the townships did not have business permits but arrived as asylum seekers.
“If they were meant to run businesses, they were supposed to come with R5 million to invest in the country, get permits and the right visa but all of them came as asylum seekers. They were supposed to invest and empower local people,” she said.
Reflecting on the tension that seemed to have led to tragic violent attacks against some foreign-owned shops across the country in 2012, Nkosi said despite the government’s condemnation, nothing much had changed and, in fact, the tragic scenes might even repeat themselves again.
Asked what solutions the organisation offered, Nkosi said there were very few options.
“We cannot say they must not leave. Let them leave if they can leave. As long as there is space for our businesses. If they comply, they can stay and we can work with them.
“Since they can’t comply, they must leave us in peace,” she said.
Nkosi said her organisation had knocked on doors at various levels of government, including the municipality, and the department of small business development but none had shown the will to assist in tackling the problems her constituency faced.