The Witness, 29 April 2008

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Plans are afoot to evict barbers who are allegedly trading illegally at the Freedom Square, as part of moves to revamp the precinct. The barbers, most of them Congolese, have complained that the municipality confiscated their trading licences and they have been threatened with forced removal ever since. On Saturday, the foreign barbers received notices from the municipality informing them that they are working at the square illegally. They were also warned that security guards will soon be dispatched to force them out of business. Now the foreigners are accusing the municipality of taking away their only means of earning an income, which helps to support their families in the city and back home. “Here is my [Home Affairs] document proving that I have refugee status in South Africa. The South African government does not support us financially, and we work hard to avoid being involved in crime, yet they are taking our jobs away,” said Tabiya Lukuhula. Lukuhula said his licence to operate at Freedom Square was taken away from him in 2004. He said he was told that it was going to be renewed, but that is yet to happen. “In that year they sent security guards to remove us after taking our operating licences. One Congolese guy was arrested after leading a protest against the removal. We were beaten up by the [security guards]. “After three days they called us to continue to operate, and promised to issue us with new licenses. We went to the municipality to pay our R50 monthly rent, but we were told to wait. Even today we are waiting, and we are scared that the rent has accumulated in such a way that we can no longer afford to pay the outstanding,” said Lukuhula. There are about 30 barbers working at the square, including two South Africans, who are apparently not happy to compete with foreigners for clients. “They [local barbers] don’t talk to us. They always call us amakwerekwere [a pejorative and demeaning term for ‘foreigner’],” said another Congolese barber. The revamp of the square is another threat facing the Congolese businesses. They have been informed that all vendors will soon be removed and only six barbers will be allowed inside the new minibus taxi rank. “They said that only Zulus [South Africans] will occupy those salons,” said Yungus Masumbuku. Attempts on Sunday and yesterday to get comment from Zwe Hulane, strategic executive manager for community services, were unsuccessful.