27/08/2012. Looters who were part of the hawkers who took to the streets to show their displeasure with the way the city council is treating them, run away with stock that they stole from a back of a van. Picture: Masi Losi

Pretoria -

Angry Marabastad business people have criticised the police for failing to protect their businesses, some of which have been closed since Wednesday.

A number of shops in Marabastad and Pretoria’s inner city were again forced to close on Monday, as informal traders took to the streets in protest against the raid conducted against them by the police in Marabastad last week.

The informal traders also protested against the Tshwane Metro Council’s decision to remove them from some of the streets in the CBD.

A businessman, who did not wish to be named for fear of victimisation, said on Monday they were promised by police that their shops would be protected. “But unfortunately this has not happened and we are again forced to close our shops. Something needs to be done to sort out this problem because we cannot be forced to close our shops indefinitely,” he said.

The shopowner said it was unfair that the informal traders were allowed to harass formal traders in Marabastad and Pretoria’s inner city without any action being taken against them.

A number of informal traders, who had earlier gathered outside the entrance to the Tshwane Fresh Produce Market on Es’kia Mphahlele Drive (DF Malan), defied their leaders and the police and marched into the inner city, where a meeting had been scheduled with executive mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa.

A bakkie with vegetables was looted on the corner of Kgosi Mampuru and Boom streets.

Police on Monday denied that they had escorted the informal traders in Marabastad and the inner city.

Tshwane Metro Police spokesman Console Tleane said it was not true that no action had been taken against the protesting informal traders.

He said that since Wednesday, 53 protesters had been arrested for public violence and intimidation - 10 on Wednesday, seven on Thursday and 36 on Friday.

“Also, there is clear documentation, which various media have captured, that the metro police have used minimum force, in the form of rubber bullets, to disperse crowds whenever the hawkers caused trouble,” Tleane added.

Pretoria Central police spokeswoman Sergeant Anne Poortman said they advised business people to close their shops to make sure that they were not looted.

She said a number of protesters had been arrested for looting. “We cannot allow these business people to open their shops because we do not know what might happen,” she said.

Poortman said police did not “necessarily escort the protesters” but had to ensure that they moved peacefully. “The police cannot take any action against people who have not done anything wrong,” she said.

Asked if police could fire rubber bullets and teargas to disperse protesters, Poortman said police officers on scene would determine if this was necessary. “We have police who have been trained in crowd control and they know how to act,” she said.

A number of informal traders - mostly women - complained that “drug addicts” had taken over their protest action.

According to the women, most of the people smoked nyaope and were known in Marabastad as troublemakers.

“The only thing they do is loot the shops… this is not fair because no one will take us seriously,” said one unidentified woman.

The chairman of the Marabastad Informal Traders Forum, Vincent Matjeng, said they had “an excellent meeting” with Ramokgopa.

“The mayor told us we can continue trading,” said Matjeng, adding that they would be back trading on the streets today.

He said he was not aware of any looting taking place on Monday, but blamed the police “for not listening to us”.

“We asked the police to escort us [into the inner city] but they refused. We could have had better control over the people if the police had escorted us into town,” he said.

Matjeng said they had indicated to the nyaope smokers that they would get into trouble if they continued with their criminal activity.

He added that they were unhappy with the police’s decision to destroy their structures in Marabastad during last week’s raid.

“We are forced to leave our stuff on the streets because we do not have any storage facilities,” said Matjeng. - Pretoria News