Pretoria - It took some fancy brainwork on the part of the police to eventually remove informal traders who on Thursday held officials in the city’s economic development department hostage for more than five hours.
After a long stand-off, police told the angry group that a senior director in another office near Church Square had invited them to discuss their problems.
The traders hastily left the Saambou Building. But on arrival they were told the director had just departed.
Discouraged, they left.
The traders accused acting director Bob Sebola of misusing funds allocated to their sector.
The traders, affiliated to the Tshwane Barekisi Forum, stormed into the building at 9:30am, angry that officials had allegedly misappropriated funds allocated to them by the previous ANC administration.
A portion of the budget was meant for a bursary scheme initiated by former mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa for the children of informal traders.
The city has previously stated the bursary scheme was cancelled because it was not budgeted for.
The traders blocked entrances to some offices on the 10th floor, from where the department operates.
They crowded the corridors, chanted derogatory songs, beat drums and blew whistles inside the building.
They refused to leave or let officials go in until the department’s officials had given them a proper explanation on what happened to the money.
Metro police and SAPS officers called in to defuse the drama were sent packing by the traders. “We are going to undress if you touch us,” some women dared the law-enforcement officers.
But the officers refused to leave and continued to plead with them to vacate the building.
The traders' anger was directed at Sebola, who they accused of misusing funds allocated to traders. He was forced to provide some explanations while circled by a group of angry informal traders.
A visibly shaken Sebola, in the company of six department officials, initially said he was not familiar with the issues they raised.
He indicated he was only aware of the dispute about the notice for the traders to apply for trading licences.
Asked whether a consultation process took place before the notice was issued, he said “they were informed”.
Sebola said all disputes would be solved at a meeting scheduled for next week.
The traders said they were in the dark about funds they raised last year towards bursary schemes for their children.
According to them, the bursary funds were deposited into a bank account opened for them by department officials.
They accused officials of opening the bank account in their name without their consent and failing to keep them abreast of how the money was being spent.
The bursary scheme has since been canned by the DA-led administration. In May, the Pretoria News reported that at least 104 beneficiaries of the bursary scheme were struggling to pay their fees after the scheme was phased out.
Barekisi secretary Mary Ngema said: “We don’t know how much money is in the account and whether it is still there.”
Ngema said mayor Solly Msimanga must give each and every region of informal traders its budget. “We want to know what happened to our budget. If it is too difficult for them to run this office we can run it ourselves."
Recently, the city announced that the moratorium on the application process for informal trading licences had been lifted.
The moratorium was put in place in 2015 under the ANC-led administration.
Leaders of the traders complained that they were not consulted prior to the lifting of the moratorium.
Ngema said the city issued a notice that starting from this month, informal traders would have to apply for trading licences after almost five years.