Business Report, 17 April 2008

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The police have been accused of harassing street traders and charging them exorbitant fines. In a survey of street traders released yesterday by the Ecumenical Service for Social and Economic Transformation, 94 percent of the traders said they had been harassed by police. At least 82 percent said their goods had been confiscated by the police and they had experienced difficulty recovering them. Street trader Martha Sigabi said the police did not issue receipts when confiscating goods and often used excessive force. "They use spray guns, which affects our health," said Sigabi. "Sexual harassment is another problem, as the police take women traders into their cars and patapata [touch] them." She also accused the police of using abusive and humiliating language towards traders. Street trader Rose Nkosi said most traders chose to sell their wares on the street instead of committing crimes. She appealed to the government to allocate land so that traders could work in a safe environment. The survey revealed that 84 percent of the street traders did not have operating licences. Sam Khasibe, a spokesperson for the African Federation of the Informal Traders Organisation, said the issuing of licences was "dubious". The survey also highlighted the lack of business management skills among traders: at least 90 percent said they had never had business training. They sold goods on the streets because they could not find formal employment. Metro police spokesperson Wayne Minnaar dismissed the traders' allegations against the police as "far-fetched". He said he was not aware of any sexual harassment complaints. Minnaar said the police were fully aware of their responsibilities towards the public. "We have to fulfil police responsibility and make sure hawkers comply with the bylaws," he said. "We cannot allow them to obstruct pavements and make it difficult for people to walk freely." However, Khasibe said the only bylaws on street traders were "draft bylaws that exist from 1997 ... How do you expect the traders to know their rights?" he asked. Minnaar said the police issued receipts when they confiscated goods. Khasibe rejected talk of tension between local and foreign traders. "There is no xenophobia. It's just circumstances that make all of us fight over issues like prices."