The return of the traders (who held legal permits) to Johannesburg city centre after a constitutional court hearing has aroused considerable emotion and it is not my intention to dampen that. The joy is much needed given the times we live in. This ruling was important for the court could simply have decided on whether or not the Johannesburg High Court had been correct in ruling that the application of the traders was not urgent. Instead it recognised that they were rendered destitute and that the council had acted lawlessly.
Some of these traders had been selling their wares in the same spot for 20 years. Suddenly they were ‘cleaned out’ of the city, as if they were vermin, without any concern for agreements in place. The language of cleanliness or ‘clean sweeps’ in the times we live is grossly insensitive. It not only attacked the rights of the traders but also insulted them, equating their presence with rubbish on the ground.
The struggle for freedom was fought to restore dignity to the people who had been insulted and attacked by apartheid. A bill of rights and the rule of law were intended to prevent them from ever facing such assaults again. The Johannesburg council has betrayed the trust of those who fought for them to represent these ideals.
During the day I interacted with people on the social media. One person said ‘all change brought pain’, but who are we, I asked, however valid the change, to decide that others should incur pain? This same person said it would be better for ‘us’ to have the traders removed. I asked, who is ‘us’, for if something is better for some by some logic related to cleanliness, are the poorest of the poor not included in our understanding of ‘us’?
In a time when we have few things over which to rejoice, this decision, reclaiming rights that were trampled on, needs to be celebrated!