Pretoria - Female members of informal traders organisation, the Tshwane Barekisi Forum, accused the Tshwane metro police on Thursday of targeting them and robbing them of their only source of income.
“Our suffering in Pretoria is going unnoticed. We did not elect to be selling in the streets but the circumstances have forced us. We cannot find jobs,” said forum deputy secretary Mary Ngema.
“Our members are being beaten and robbed of their stuff and assets by the metro police. As mothers, we want to eke [out] a living for our children from the street. We have been thrown into police cells countless times.”
The women congregated near the Tshwane municipality's headquarters along Lilian Ngoyi Street (formerly Van der Walt) in the city centre on Thursday.
Ngema said the harassment had ironically increased in August, which was government's dedicated Women's Month.
“Should we be selling our bodies, because that is among the few businesses permitted by the Tshwane municipality? Selling bananas has been made a very serious offence. In this city, drug dealers are a common sight but the defenceless hawkers are an easy target.
“We only hear that it's 20 years of independence but for us it's been two decades of hell. The harassment is getting worse by the day. Whether you have a licence or not, the metro police will take your stock,” she said.
Ngema said a female vendor was robbed of her cellphone and money by metro police as they confiscated her wares this week.
Another hawker, Joyce Mashele, 49, said she was seriously assaulted by metro police officers.
“Very young people assaulted me. Now I am scared to sell because I can become a victim again. They also confiscated my vegetables,” she said.
Juliet Ngobeni said metro police officers confiscated her licence in August last year and ordered her not to trade.
“The municipal officials inspected my selling spot before they gave me the licence. Now they said they are cleaning the city because the mayor's offices (Pretoria city hall) are going to be close by.”
“I am trying to raise university fees for my child. I am really angry. If I were to see the mayor, I have tough questions for him. [Kgosientso] Ramokgopa has a mother and he should behave like a human,” said Ngobeni who trades along Minnaar Street.
Ramokgopa is scheduled to move into the 80-year-old Pretoria City Hall in Minnaar Street provisionally while a new multibillion-rand Tshwane House is under construction in the city.
The city hall is currently being refurbished at a reported cost of R35 million while Ramokgopa is due to move in with his staff at the end of October.
Some vendors alleged their stock and utensils “disappears” when they go to reclaim it after paying fines.
Tshwane metro police spokesman Senior Superintendent Isaac Mahamba said the alleged assaults and harassment would not be tolerated.
“The hawkers need to launch formal complaints with our structures. The city has a hotline and other channels to deal with such incidents,” said Mahamba.
“Our work is to enforce municipal by-laws and we may need to confiscate the hawkers' stuff at times. Our members know that they need to issue proof to the people they are taking stuff from.”
He said Pretoria residents should identify the individual police officers who harassed them.
“If we have details like the registration of the municipal vehicle or the details of the officers, it makes our lives much easier. Our aim is to work with the hawkers, not to harass them,” said Mahamba.
In January, the traders forum alleged that a vegetable vendor Foster Jan Rivombo was shot dead in Pretoria central for refusing to hand over his stock to Tshwane metro police.