Premier Willies Mchunu File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/ANA
Durban - Foreigners who own businesses in Durban’s northern townships, Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu, have been given a reprieve after a last-minute deal was struck with local shop owners who had given them until Thursday to close their shops.

A deal between the representatives of local business owners under the banner of the Northern Region Business Association (Norba) and the foreign nationals was struck on Tuesday night following the intervention of Premier Willies Mchunu.

Under the new agreement, the foreigners will be allowed to continue operating until May 24.

On May 24, all tuckshops will be expected to close for a verification process as part of a plan to regulate trade in these townships.

Competition between the foreign traders and locals had led to a souring of relations which culminated in the locals issuing an ultimatum to the foreign owners to close their shops.

Locals, who mostly belonged to Norba, had complained that their foreign competitors, who are predominantly Somalis and Ethiopians, had introduced unfair business practices which had forced them to shut their shops.

In a statement issued, the premier’s office said the process to regulate the informal trading in the area would start soon.

“A task team made up of the Office of The Premier, Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Community Safety and Liaison, eThekwini, Norba and the Somali and Ethiopian traders would soon meet to kick-start the verification process.”

Threats against foreign traders had created fear of possible xenophobic attacks.

Mchunu said the agreement to regulate and formalise all tuckshops was welcomed by all parties who attended the meeting.

“This agreement is a win for all parties as it prevents violence and a situation where we have to be chasing people with the police because the law has been broken,” Mchunu said.

Norba chairperson Vusumuzi Msomi said local business owners had raised concerns about the unfair business practices of foreign nationals since 2014.

“Since 2014, we've been holding meetings without finding solutions, which is why we sent letters to foreigners telling them, peacefully, that we are giving them 14 days to close down.

“Their shops are spreading across the township, leaving us with no space to trade, hence we are forced to close our shops,” said Msomi.

eThekwini deputy mayor Fawzia Peer said the city’s Business Support department would be tasked with conducting an audit of how many foreign national-owned shops were registered in Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu (INK).

Guidance

“According to the foreigners, they had submitted a lot of forms to the municipality, so Business Support needs to check where the forms are and that will give us guidance as to how many informal traders should be allowed in the area. The task team will sit together and verify the registrations and develop the criteria we’re going to use to register them because you can’t use the same criteria as that of formal traders,” Peer said.

She added that the main grievance of the locals was that there was a “huge influx” of foreign nationals operating in the area with around 400 foreign-owned shops in the INK area.

Ethiopian businessman Jamal Mohummed, who spoke on behalf of the foreigners, acknowledged that there were foreigners who had been pushing local shops out of business.

“As foreigners we have held several meetings where we asked them (other foreigners) to stop opening their shops close to those owned by locals because it is unfair. Locals need to make an income to support their families,” he said.

Ahmed Mohammed, chairperson of the KZN Somali Community Council, said he was hopeful that, with the establishment of the task team, common ground could be reached by all parties involved.

The Mercury