Grindrod squares up for battle with Badih
By Lynnette Johns
On December 1, Badih Chaaban and Simon Grindrod will square up over one of the most iconic pieces of land in the city.
Law enforcement officers will be out in force on Greenmarket Square on the day to ensure only traders with city permits are trading on the square, after the city cancelled its month-to-month lease with Chaaban, who in turn lets space to traders.
Traders without permits will be booted off the square and could have their goods confiscated, said Grindrod, the mayoral committee member for economic development and tourism.
Both men are adamant they will triumph on the day. The city says it will take complete control of Greenmarket Square following years of wrangling.
"No ifs or buts, no amount of threats, moaning or whingeing will prevent us from doing our jobs," said Grindrod.
"This city and one of its prime assets are not the personal property of any individual or grouping; those days are over. Greenmarket Square belongs to all the people of Cape Town and the city will not allow it to be exploited for the benefit of one."
But Chaaban's spokesperson, Juan Uys, warned: "Badih Chaaban will not walk off the square like a defeated cowboy."
At issue is Chaaban's lucrative right to control two-thirds of the market spaces on the square. Chaaban controls 230 bays for which he is paid rental by traders.
He claims to have a lease from the city, which the city denies.
In June, a full council agreed to cancel the month-to-month lease it held with Chaaban.
The city also claims he owes it more than R2-million in arrears rental for the square, which he denies.
Grindrod said he was fighting for the rights of the traders, the people of the city and the hundreds of tourists for whom the square was an attraction.
Chaaban is unlikely to relinquish his rights to the square without a fight. "It will be business as usual for him," said Uys.
"There is no valid reason why they took the lease away from him, it is a political reason. He will protect his interests on December 1. If communicating with the council will not work, we will use our legal resources."
Uys said the city could not use physical force, as it was a civil and not a criminal matter.
"They cannot evict him. If the council thinks he will pack up and leave, they had better invest their money in legal action."
Grindrod's arsenal includes all law enforcement agencies, legal opinions, a number of city departments, the ward councillor and the Good Hope sub-council.
Chaaban's arsenal is his war chest; he spends a fortune on his legal team and is confident that it will score a victory in court.
A conservative figure puts his monthly earnings from Greenmarket Square at R345 000, as he charges a minimum of R1 500 per trader per month.
But this figure could be higher as he charges traders on a sliding scale. Some of the 230 traders say they pay R80 a day (R2 400 a month).
If he charges the maximum fee of R2 400 he could reap up to R576 000 per month.
Chaaban also has a number of other financial interests.
If the traders sign with the city they will pay only R400 a month and have been promised safety, cleansing and upgrading.
Chaaban said he paid the city R200 000 a year for the lease. He claims he entered into a valid agreement with the former Cape Town administration in 1998, but the city maintains that the agreement is a tacit one.
Grindrod said the move against Chaaban was in line with a planned upgrade of Greenmarket Square and the enforcement of new informal trading bylaws.
Grindrod said they had received 147 applications from 230 traders, but traders would be given only one permit per household. Traders would have to be either be South African citizens or have valid work permits.
"Right now the market is over-traded in many products; the permit system will allow us to influence what can be traded."
He said the vision was to return the square to its former glory, with a variety of goods and crafts on sale.