“It is not the traders who are doing the crime”

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In the vacant lots of the Cape Town station deck, where informal traders once hawked their goods, there now stands a lone bundle of barbed wire, like a grotesque tumbleweed. Further down, one of the 88 legal trading bays sits apart from the bustle of human traffic entering and exiting the cluttered minibus line.

Following Ward 54 councillor J P Smith’s claims that the station deck clean-up has led to a “spectacular decrease in crime”, the Cape Argus visited the deck to see the effects at first hand.

“There are fewer crimes now,” says Stewart Otu, leaning against a makeshift trading booth.

“Before, in the midday, you would see people grabbing each other’s cellphones. But believe me, the prostitution and drug dealing will continue.

“It is not the people trading who are doing the crime.”

Otu sold cellphone accessories on the station deck for more than two years before moving to the southern Cape and handing his business over to a friend. Now that friend wants to move as well, as the new regulations have compelled him to move off the main stretch of the deck.

“People do not come to this place, there is a huge loss of business,” Otu says, while another trader, who refuses to be named, leans in and nods.

“Our business is much worse because we are now far away from the taxi rank.

“The government does not care that we cannot support ourselves any more,” he says, shaking his head.

“They do not respect us.”

Otu believes that the new regulations for traders may lead to an increase in crime.

“The idle man is a devil’s workshop,” Otu says.

“Eighty to 90% of these traders are refugees and they have to get their hands on something – R20 or R30 – to buy bread for their families.

“If they cannot sell their wares, then they have to turn to crime.”

Otu says the legitimate traders close their shops at 5pm and leave to sell their wares on the streets before returning to their homes in the townships. That is when the drug dealing and prostitution begin, Otu says. He ascribes these activities primarily to refugees from Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

“People don’t want to be involved in crime, but no one will fight the government,” Otu says. “The government should be more considerate.

“In America, in the UK, these are illegal structures to them,” Otu says, gesturing towards the ramshackle shops. “But this is Africa. We are one nation. It is for all the world and it should have open doors.”


~ by Matt Medved on April 23, 2007.

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