Mayor Herman Mashaba has accused public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan of being "economical with the truth" in relation to Denel. FILE PHOTO: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - The Institute for Race Relations (IRR) slammed a tweet by Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba about the supposed health risk posed by an informal trader as contemptible and xenophobic.

IRR head of politics and governance Gareth van Onselen said Mashaba “should be rebuked by the DA leaders”.

Mashaba, responding to a picture of an informal trader with a trolley full of animal parts, at first, described the situation as a serious health risk.

But then, in response to the suggestion that the trader be helped to comply rather than punished, he wrote: “We are going to sit back and allow people like you to bring us Ebola in the name of small business.

“Health of our people first. Our health facilities are already stretched to the limit.”

Van Onselen said: “This is a language of intolerance and prejudice, and, in an environment which is already a tinderbox of visceral contempt for illegal immigrants, is deeply problematic.

“These sorts of explicit collective slurs - people like you - and the implicit us-and-them rhetoric in his reference to ‘our health system’, is how you fuel prejudice and hate, not how you mitigate it.

“The idea that illegal immigrants or informal traders, often regarded as one and the same, are the harbinger of Ebola is despicable.”

Speaking on behalf of Mashaba and the city council, Luyanda Mfeka said the trader was arrested because he violated the Meat Safety Act, which stipulates how raw meat should be stored and transported.

Mfeka said the trader didn’t possess a licence to sell meat as stipulated in the city’s by-laws.

Regarding the “killing” of black businesses, Mfeka said: “The city is committed to assisting small and medium enterprises with developing their business and in turn generating jobs. Indeed, this is why the current administration has invested in the creation of Opportunity Centres throughout the city in order to provide prospective entrepreneurs with support for building their businesses.

“However, growing businesses must be done in a manner that respects our existing legal framework and safeguards the health and safety of all our residents within the city.”

Mashaba also drew the ire of trolley-transport entrepreneurs who asserted that his citizen’s arrest on Monday was an attack on their legitimate businesses and could create crime.

This fury follows Mashaba’s social media message on Monday, where the mayor posted a picture of the citizen’s arrest he effected on a man delivering cow heads using his trolley.

Confusion is rife as to where the arrested man, who was identified as Dumi by his friends, has been remanded as the city said he was at the Hillbrow police station.

Hillbrow police said the man was not at their station and no one with his name and surname was registered when The Star visited on Tuesday.

Mashaba was embroiled in a social media backlash over his arrest, where the mayor responded to people accusing him of killing small businesses that he would not allow “people like you to bring us (Ebola) in the name of small business”. Miriam Tsebe, who runs a business selling cooked cow heads in Bramfischer, Soweto, said she had been using Dumi’s trolley service for 10 years, and none of her customers ever complained about falling ill.

“We are helping our children to stay away from crime. Dumi is not a criminal. Real criminals are overpowering Mashaba and he’s now attacking honest people. Does Mashaba want Dumi to go and steal?” Tsebe asked.

An irate Lefa Moatshe, who also has a trolley business and knows Dumi, said he made R500 a day delivering cow heads to his clients, and used the money to support his 5-year-old twin girls.

The Star