Looting and violent attacks on mainly foreigner-owned spaza shops allegedly selling expired and counterfeit goods were due to municipalities not implementing by-laws or conducting regular inspections, the National Consumer Commission (NCC) says.
The NCC has been forced to launch a probe after four people were killed in rampages this week.
Residents assaulted foreign shop owners, stealing the “fake” and “ex- pired” goods they were objecting to.
The African Diaspora Forum, which represents foreign shop owners, also blamed the government for dereliction of duty.
Somali Community Board chairperson Sheik Amir said they could not go to every store in the country to check for counterfeit or expired goods.
“We do not have the capacity. We met the victims to ask if they do sell expired goods and, if so, why?” he said.
Municipalities such as Ekurhuleni and Joburg have started conducting raids. The NCC also led a multi-disciplinary team on a raid in Pretoria West in which they found goods that expired in 2016 still on shop shelves. These included condoms and washing powder.
The team shut down three premises that did not have authorisation to manufacture or sell goods.
Regarding municipalities’ failure to enforce by-laws and inspect shops, the NCC would aim to establish how the situation became so dire.
NCC spokesperson Trevor Hattingh said that shops had sprung up all over, raising the question of whether municipalities were carrying out their duties. “That is one of the things we are trying to establish right now through the assessment.
"We have authorised an investigation into the allegations," he said.
“Why is it that these things come up on social media and they have not come to our attention, either from people complaining or the authorities at ground level?”
Hattingh said municipal health services were responsible for ensuring that shops adhered to by-laws.
He said the NCC undertook large-scale investigations throughout the country and set national norms and standards that provincial and local governments adopted.
“The investigation will seek to find out why inspections are not being done. Is it an issue of capacity or funds? How could this have fallen through the cracks without local government picking up on it?" Hattingh asked.
“We must understand what exactly happened. We will speak to the SA Local Government Association and the minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs about strengthening things on the ground,” he said.
Hattingh added that there could be serious consequences for municipalities, which might be stripped of the power to issue operating certificates to shop owners.
“We will interview communities and shop owners. They need to tell us how they opened shops without the necessary certification. Municipalities will have to answer as well.
“The remedial actions could include amendments of laws, taking their powers away and shifting them to us. That will all depend on the findings on the ground,” he said.
The Food and Allied Workers Union, which condemned the attacks on foreigners, has backed the move. General secretary Katishi Masemola said: “We call on President Cyril Ramaphosa to take the matter seriously and establish a multi-disciplinary task force involving health inspectors, tax officials, police officers and other relevant players to crack down on illegal local manufacturers, illegitimate importers and smugglers, and overall illicit traders involved in a range of products.”
Some municipalities admitted that they did not have sufficient monitoring capacity. Ekurhuleni municipality spokesperson Themba Gadebe said the rate at which shops were springing up outweighed the capacity of environmental officials to check on them regularly.
“That is basically the issue. You find that there are two shops in a street, but by end of the week there are five and some have fake certificates.
“Some thrive on the fact that the resources to keep an eye on them are not (equal) to the number of shops,” he said.
City of Tshwane spokesperson Lindela Mashigo said they were struggling to keep up with the mushrooming of shops. “The municipal business licensing unit provides for licensing of all qualifying business establishments within the city. However, due to the proliferation of small businesses, some are missed and they take advantage by operating without businesses licences."
Joburg metro police department spokesperson Wayne Minnaar said: “There is a law that you can’t sell goods that are in contravention of by-laws, meaning that you can’t sell fake goods.
"We raided shops in Midrand, Randburg, Joburg and Soweto as well.”
The Sunday Independent