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Lockdown regulations ‘favoured’ big business

Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published May 15, 2020

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Johannesburg - The goverment has been accused of formulating Covid-19 lockdown regulations that favour only the formal and established businesses while elbowing the informal sector.

In her recent piece, Professor Jane Battersby-Lennard, of the African Centre for Cities at UCT, criticises the government for demonstrating a limited understanding of how most poor access foodstuff.

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Battersby-Lennard said the brief research conducted found consistently higher levels of food insecurity than official statistics present.

It also found how poor households depend on a range of formal and informal food retail sources to meet their food needs.

“The informal sector provides food in affordable unit sizes, provides food on credit, sells fresh produce at lower costs than supermarket fresh produce and sells prepared foods appropriate for households that experience income, time, storage and energy poverty.

“And yet, when the lockdown measures were first announced, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the only food retailers that could open were supermarkets,” Battersby-Lennard said.

She added: “The official lockdown regulations were expanded to include spaza shops. However, confusion about what permits were required for spazas to operate, and Small Business Development Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni later retracting the statement that only South African stores would be able to operate, meant that law enforcement forced many legitimately open spazas to close.”

She said researchers later found that even after the informal sector was allowed to operate during the lockdown, they encountered several challenges in the places where they were based.

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“Only after two weeks of lockdown were informal food vendors allowed to start selling again and only those selling uncooked foods with existing municipal permits. Most township vendors had previously operated without permits and were, therefore, now unable to legally operate.”

Battersby-Lennard said the government’s lockdown regulations demonstrated a considerable bias towards the large-scale formal actors while pushing towards a formalisation of the informal sector.

“These reflect historical biases against informality, the Africa-wide modernisation agenda and the power of large-scale food businesses to self-identify as partners-in-development.”

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