KZN premier’s reprieve for foreign shopkeepers
FOREIGNERS who own businesses in Durban’s northern townships have been given a reprieve after a last-minute deal was struck with the local shopowners who gave them until yesterday to close their doors.
The deal between the local business owners – under the banner of the Northern Region Business Association (Norba) – and the foreigners was struck on Tuesday night, after KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu intervened.
Under the new agreement, the foreigners will no longer be expected to close down their shops and will be allowed to continue operating until next Thursday, when all the tuckshops will be expected to close down, as part of regulating trade in these townships.
Competition between the foreign traders and the locals had led to the souring of relations, culminating in the locals issuing an ultimatum to the foreign shopkeepers to close their shops.
Locals, who mostly belonged to Norba, have accused their foreign competitors – mainly Somalis and Ethiopians – of unfair business practices, which forced them to shut down their shops.
A task team made up of representatives of the KZN office of the premier; economic development, tourism and environmental affairs; community safety and liaison; the eThekwini Metro; Norba; and the Somali and Ethiopian traders will meet to kickstart the verification process.
Threats against foreign traders had created fear of xenophobic attacks.
Mchunu said the agreement to regulate and formalise all tuckshops was welcomed by all parties at their meeting.
“This agreement is a win for all parties as it prevents violence and an unruly situation requiring police action because the law has been broken.
“We have come here and ask to be given the space to govern,” Mchunu explained to the gathering.
Vusumuzi Msomi, the Norba chairperson, said local business owners had since 2014 raised concerns about the foreigners’ unfair business practices.
He said the competitors were employed by unidentified business owners to pene- trate the townships and destroy locally owned businesses.
“Since 2014, we have been holding meetings without resolving the situation, which is why we sent letters to foreigners telling them peacefully that we are giving them 14 days to close down.
“Their shops are spreading across the township, leaving us with no space to trade, hence we are forced to close down our businesses,” Msomi pointed out.
eThekwini deputy mayor Fawzia Peer said the ball was now in the city’s court, particularly its business support department, to conduct an audit of how many foreign-owned shops were registered in the Inanda Ntuzuma KwaMashu (INK) area.
She said the audit would get under way soon and continue until the deadline next Thursday.
“The foreigners say they have submitted their forms to the municipality, so business support needs to check where the forms are, and that will give us guidance as to how many informal traders should be permitted in the area.
“The task team will sit together and verify the registrations and develop the criteria that we’re going to use to register them, because you can’t use the same criteria applicable to formal traders,” Peer said.
The locals’ main grievance was the “huge influx” of foreigners operating in the area ,with around 400 foreign-owned shops in the INK area alone.
Ethiopian businessman Jamal Mohummed, who spoke on behalf of the foreigners, acknowledged that there were foreigners who had been pushing local shops out of business.
“As foreigners, we have held several meetings where we asked them (other foreigners) to stop opening their shops close to those owned by the locals, because it is unfair. The locals also need to generate income to support their families,” he said.
Ahmed Mohammed, chairperson of the KZN Somali Community Council, said a task team on which they serve was now in communication with Norba, the Economic Development Department and the municipality in a bid to find a speedy solution to these ongoing problems.