Johannesburg - Small business owners in Soweto, and Kagiso on the West Rand, on Monday called on the government to regulate spaza shops to ensure foreign shopowners had no unfair competitive advantage over them by selling expired goods cheaper.
During a dialogue with Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu in Diepkloof, Soweto, retailers voiced their frustrations at “unfair trade” by Somali and Pakistani tuckshop owners.
The foreigners were sent packing by angry residents recently.
Imported expired stock sold at below cost, a blatant disregard for by-laws, tax dodging, and a government that was not seen to be doing a thing were some of the issues raised by the business owners.
“You can’t have three shops on one street. Health inspectors should also be called in because they (the Pakistanis and Somali traders) sleep in the same rooms they sell food to our people from and that’s not healthy. So they have to be regulated,” said Pat Maboa, chairman of the Greater Gauteng Business Forum.
Business people wanted foreign traders banned from operating in townships.
But Zulu said that move would be unconstitutional.
“ The Bill of Rights protects them, the constitution protects them, so how do we integrate them? Make them understand the law? We mustn't forget that we live in a global world. There are things we can learn from them,” she said, sparking outrage from the crowd.
“Like what?” shouted one man. “You’re out of order,” shouted another.
But Zulu continued: “There are foreigners who live here legally. There are others who live here illegally. Those who live here legally, how do they make money? You cannot run away from the fact that there are those operating here and making it a success. By-laws must be implemented.”
She said a task team had been established to look into the matter as a means of resolving tension between local and foreign traders.
She then joined members of the portfolio committee on small business development on an oversight visit to tuckshops and supermarkets in Soweto and Kagiso.
Like their Soweto counterparts, Kagiso traders complained about the unregulated industry and foreigners they said were pushing them out of the market.
“We sell Albany (bread) for R11 but they (foreign shopowners) sell it for R6. Where do they get their stock?” said Thandi Mdontswa from her supermarket in Kagiso.
The issues raised had been communicated to the committee last year, said its chairwoman Ruth Bhengu, necessitating an oversight visit that had originally been planned for November.
“The government has committed to develop SMMEs,” she said.
“The chairperson of the spaza shops and owners of general dealers wrote to us, saying the mushrooming of rural and township malls was affecting their businesses, pushing them out of the market instead of involving them as partners. They also say they don’t have access to funding.”