Street vendors and informal traders on the move

2 April 2012

On Friday 30 March 2012, 45 organised street vendors and informal traders from all 9 provinces met in Mangaung to chart the way forward to the establishment of a national alliance through which they will represent the members in their sector with one united voice. The informal traders` organisations represented at the meeting included ACHIB (African Cooperative of Hawkers & Informal Businesses), Eastern Cape Street Vendors` Alliance, Kimberley Hawkers` Front, Limpopo SMME & Hawkers` Assocation, Mangaung Hawkers` Association, Mpumalanga Hawkers` Association, Johannesburg-based SA Informal Traders` Forum, Durban-based Ubumbano Traders` Alliance, Western Cape Informal Traders` Coalition and Mangaung cross-border traders. All these organisations are united in the commitment to strengthen their voice in negotiations with authorities to put an end to the problems of harassment, discrimination, lack of recognition as workers, insecurity of workplace tenure, and other decent work deficits experienced on a daily basis by street vendors and informal traders the majority of whom are women trying to earn their livelihoods through the sale of goods and services in public space.

Pictured are the Street Trader Representatives at the meeting

The meeting, hosted by COSATU`s Free State Province, and jointly organised by COSATU, SAMWU (SA Municipal Workers` Union) and StreetNet International, was a continuation of a process started in 2003, which has seen national meetings being convened in 2003, 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2010, with more organised groups of street vendors and informal traders joining on the way. Since the 2010 meeting, there has been significant progress in the development of provincial unity between street vendors and informal traders and the Mangaung meeting was the first one at which all 9 provinces were finally represented.

A national Steering Committee consisting of one representative per province was established to draw up a programme towards the launch of the national alliance later in 2012 or early 2013, coordinate the collection of comments on a draft constitution which has been circulated to the members in all provinces to study and amend, and to fundraise for this process. StreetNet, COSATU and SAMWU have offered technical and organisational support to the Steering Committee where needed.

Cross-border trade
This was followed by a path-breaking meeting on Saturday 31 March 2012 to deliberate on and seek solutions to the additional problems of informal cross-border traders. These were identified as: difficulties with travel and customs documents (language, expiry dates, delays in issuing passports, etc.), difficulties in interpreting and understanding export-import laws, no facilities or infrastructure at borders for cross-border traders, sexual abuse, confiscation and impoundment of goods, and widespread corruption by border officials.

Members of StreetNet`s Lesotho-based affiliate organisation of street vendors, Khathang Tema Baits`okoli, joined this meeting to discuss the importance of cross-border unity between informal traders in Lesotho and the Free State.

The Executive Secretary of the SADC Council of NGOs (SADC-CNGO) who work in partnership with the Southern African Trade Union & Coordinating Council (SATUCC) and the SADC Council of Churches, presented an initiative they are supporting to assist cross-border traders in the SADC region to unite in an association which is in the process of being established, based on strong national member organisations of informal traders. The emerging organisation (SACBTA Southern African Cross-Border Traders` Association) currently has an interim committee representing cross-border traders in Malawi, Mocambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia, and seeks to expand its scope to include national organisations of informal cross-border traders from other SADC countries.

The meeting concluded that the most important way to promote decent work and defend the rights of informal cross-border traders is strong collective organisation and cross-border unity between the informal traders in the different countries in the SADC region.

Nothing for us without us!!
The central message from these two meetings is that street vendors and informal traders in South Africa, and in the SADC region, are gearing up to participate collectively in social dialogue and negotiations with all relevant bodies such as municipal authorities, border authorities, and government departments across borders dealing with immigration and customs issues. In this they are supported by the organised labour movement in South Africa as well as other SADC countries.

Issued by:

Pat Horn
International Coordinator
StreetNet International
Tel.031 307 4038
Cel.076 706 5282

COSATU contact:

Sam Mashinini
Provincial Secretary
COSATU, Free State
Tel. 051 447 5230 / 5499
Cel. 082 563 6954

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StreetNet International

StreetNet International is an alliance of street vendors. It was launched in Durban, South Africa, in November 2002.

Membership-based organizations (unions, co-operatives or associations) directly organizing street vendors, market vendors and/or hawkers among their members, are entitled to affiliate to StreetNet International.

The aim of StreetNet is to promote the exchange of information and ideas on critical issues facing street vendors, market vendors and hawkers (i.e. mobile vendors) and on practical organizing and advocacy strategies