Pretoria - Tensions are expected to rise on the city’s streets after a hawkers’ forum accused the Tshwane Metro Police of shooting dead a vegetable vendor for refusing to hand over his stock to police.
The Tshwane Traders’ Forum alleges Foster Jan Rivombo was shot on Wednesday by a police officer who wanted to confiscate his stock of apples and bananas.
The forum’s chairman Shoes Maloka said Rivombo was shot at point blank range.
On Thursday, scores of angry hawkers protested outside the Metro Police headquarters on WF Nkomo (formerly Church) Street.
They hurled insults at officers and demanded justice and a permanent solution to the issue of informal trading in the CBD.
“There was an argument between hawkers and police officers.
“One of the policemen drew a gun and shot him because they wanted to take the bananas,” Maloka said.
“After shooting him, they put him inside a bakkie and did not call an ambulance for three hours.
“Some hawkers intervened, demanding an ambulance be called. The police arrested the hawkers who intervened. They are in detention as we speak,” said Maloka.
The forum’s leaders spent all of Thursday trying in vain to get its members released.
The vendors have threatened to take to the streets if their members were not set free.
“The worst part is that the officer who shot Rivombo is still roaming the streets with his service gun.
“He is still on duty. Nothing has happened to him. We have seen him today,” said Maloka.
“We have been seeking engagement with the city’s political leadership, but were told they are in Mpumalanga for the ANC rallies.
“We have sought to speak to anyone who can help us, but without success.
“Several hawkers in the city centre said they saw the shooting and were traumatised.
Nicky Mabasa, who sells cellphone accessories along Paul Kruger Street, said he feared for his life.
“The Tshwane metro treats us as if we are selling dagga or something.
“They shot the vendor in a public place. The metro police run this city like a mafia. We are at their mercy,” he said.
“They come daily and demand bribes. If we refuse to pay they take our stock. We don’t know where it will end. We have families to feed and if many of our fellow traders were not selling, maybe they would be thieves.”
Mernad Mthakane said the metro police often demanded bribes from the hawkers.
Apart from selling on street corners, the vendors also had to play a daily hide and seek game with the police.
“You see how dirty this city has become. They don’t concentrate on giving service to residents, but focus on chasing the poor out of the city.
“Serious criminals roam freely in the city while cops are chasing us daily,” said Mthakane.
Metro police spokesman Isaac Mahamba said the vendor was shot while metro police were conducting this year’s first routine inspection of the hawkers’ trading licences as part of “Operation I Can”.
“The SAPS has opened a murder docket and are fast-tracking a ballistics test. They have also quarantined the area of the shooting for further leads,” said council spokesman Blessing Manale.
Thus far the investigation revealed that no live ammunition or rubber bullets were fired by the metro police, Manale said.
He claimed information at this stage suggested a member of the public may have fired the fatal shot.
“At this stage we do not know if the hawker fired any shots. This will emerge during the investigation,” Mahamba said.
Inspection of the traders’ licences could not be completed due to the commotion caused by the shooting incident.
Mahamba could not confirm whether the hawker was trading legally at the time of his death.
The vendor was the first hawker to be killed during “Operation I Can” since its inception in August 2012, Mahamba said.
“The city regrets the loss of life under the circumstances it had occurred. We urge bona fide hawkers and the public to co-operate with law enforcement authorities in the investigation on the murder,” Manale said.
The operation has had many positive results to date, he said.
“Since the launch of the programme crime has been reduced, businesses operating illegally and municipal buildings that had been turned into homesteads have been closed. Some of the reclaimed municipal buildings are being renovated to serve the needs of the city,” Manale said of the city’s clean-up exercise.
More than 280 arrests have been made since the operation started and more than 260 illegal immigrants have been handed over to the authorities.