The battle on the streets

The battle on the streets

BUTHA-BUTHE – FOR over 10 years ’Mamorapeli Ntšinyi has sold fruits in the streets of Butha-Buthe town for a living.
All seemed well, with money from the business enough to pay for her children’s basic needs such as education, food and health.
However, the prolonged effects of the outbreak of Covid-19 have severely affected business, not least because of what she calls “unfair competition” from supermarkets and formerly employed people who are now joining the ranks of street vendors.

“In all these years I have been selling fruits I have never felt so burdened. Catering for my family’s needs has become a daunting task,” Ntšinyi said.
A box of apples she once sold in a day now takes two weeks to sell, she said.
“We are in a battlefield. We have been hit by several diseases year after year but Covid-19 feels like the final nail on the coffin,” she said.
Once stigmatised, street vending has turned into a much sought-after source of livelihood as businesses close or shed off workers due to the effects of the pandemic.

The biggest losers are veterans of the business such as Ntšinyi, who now have to contend with more competition even as customers dwindle.
Supermarkets provide another sore point for vendors.
“Foreign-owned supermarkets are working tirelessly to push us out of business,” charged Ntšinyi.
“We buy stock from them but they are also selling individual items to the same people we serve. They are leaving us with no customers to serve, our stock is rotting away,” she said.

She said previously she would make M400 profit a day from fruits she would have ordered for M800.
“Now I can be stuck with the same stock for days or weeks. This time around the struggle is real hence we felt a sense of hope when the Minister of Trade Thabiso Molapo graced us with his presence on Thursday,” she said.

What gives the foreign businesses an advantage is their corrupt alliances with some Ministry of Trade officials, she said.
“Officers are on holiday. When they are not arming these businesses with information they are not doing their work and they merely sit in their offices and count down knock-off time,” she said.
“Some of them already warned these businesses of the minister’s visit, giving them a chance to get their houses in order ahead of the visit.”
However, Ntšinyi said they had noticed “some progress” since the minister’s visit.

Like in many towns countrywide, big retailers have started selling items outside their stores, parading wares on pavements in direct competition with street vendors.
According to the Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of Trade, Liahelo Nkaota, Minister Molapo’s visit to Butha-Buthe was for inspection purposes.

The inspection, she said, revealed that Butha-Buthe, like other districts in the country, is no exception when it comes to business malpractices.
“The inspection revealed that many businesses owned by foreigners are operating outside the boundaries of their licences,” Nkaota said.
“The majority are supermarkets that are supposed to sell things in bulk but you find them selling items one-by-one. They sell a single candle, a teabag and even a tomato, leaving little room for small village shops and street vendors to operate,” she said.

She added that the supermarkets do not comply with guidelines on hygiene by selling expired goods that are poorly packaged and using items like planks to divide freezers.
“The sad thing is even our laws are outdated,” Nkaota said.
“They seem to encourage malpractice instead of discouraging it,” she said. “As a result, as a ministry we have advised ourselves that the only way to enforce compliance is through frequent inspections,” she said.

Molapo said unfair competition is partly to blame for the stunted MSME sector.
MSMEs, he said, are the backbone of the economy and should be given enough room to grow, hence the need for all industry players to work towards achieving that goal.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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