When the Johannesburg Council removed traders from the pavements of the inner city, they did not distinguish between those who were legally present and those who were not. They decided to embark on a verification process after removing them. A verification process could, of course be conducted while they were located at their work place. Instead, authoritarian bureaucracy demanded that they all be removed for some months while a process of verification was embarked on. It was all under the label of cleanliness. A clean and hygienic environment, free of unhealthy and dirty streets was equated with removing traders as if they were vermin.
These are breadwinners. These are people whose children are supposed to have school fees paid, from the earnings of the traders. Some may not have the required permits, but many others do have the permits, but the distinction between legality and illegality is blurred in the quest for a ‘clean city’. What has happened to the ideas of restoring human dignity about which much was said when our democratic South Africa was inaugurated in 1994? This is not the Minister of Police calling for police to ‘shoot to kill’. This is at the municipal level in the biggest city of South Africa. What we are seeing is that the dehumanisation of the present is not just at the top, but runs right down, we know, to Bekkersdal, Bramfischerville and many other informal settlements, but also the city of Johannesburg, which likes to refer to itself as ‘world class’. With the assistance of lawyers from the Social and Economic Rights institute (SERI) the traders are fighting back, claiming their rights under a constitution that was hard won, through the efforts of many. Their opponents are a Council headed by the organisation that was instrumental in establishing this constitution.In a period of shameful acts, this ‘cleansing’ must be one of the most disgraceful episodes of our time.