The following blog is the first in the series ‘Livelihood Struggles’, and is the work of guest-writer, Gideon C. du Toit, a freelance writer based in the Garden Route region. The experiences described and opinions expressed are those of du Toit himself, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation or its collaborators.
The Western Cape is an area known for its rich natural and cultural diversity. To the periodical visitor this seems like the ideal place to live. Little do they know that this area is also host to the atrocity of economic exclusion, something that I have experienced firsthand.
Earning my keep as a freelance writer, my wife and I were facing financial ruin as our combined household income steadily declined. Drawing on the spirit of entrepreneurial initiative and with months of planning, we decided that my mother’s winning Jaffle recipe was the way forward, so we purchased Jaffle pans, a gazebo, utensils, aprons, a menu and a small gas stove.
Mosselbay hosts two municipally-approved, demarcated areas for flea market trade. Since these areas have a lot of passing traffic, we approached the municipality and applied for a stand where we could sell our Jaffles. Even before I had the application papers in my hand, the municipal official informed me that the current stands were all occupied by the same tenants who have been renting it for years, and that no additional stands will be allocated. As I read through the papers it became clear to me that these demarcated areas where meant for occupation by at least the middle-class, as the requirements were grossly out of reach of the poor. The requirements to prepare food in a stall required an outlay of at least R15 000, not including health certificates and additional approvals.
When I pointed this out, I was advised to apply for a stand at either the Goods Shed, or at the annual Diaz festival. The Goods Shed is a former railway shed turned indoor flea market that enjoys the majority of its commercial traffic during December, while for the remainder of the year isn’t conducive for sustainable trade.
With no stalls available for lower income groups, no additional stalls identified in the existing areas, the high costs of obtaining a stall and boundless array of red tape to acquire a stand, we simply had nowhere to legally bring our product to market. Despite our best efforts to push through financially, we ended up homeless on January 12, 2016. Together with our pets, we took shelter in a cave from where we attempted to earn money by washing cars in one of the public parking areas but this was abruptly ended by the local traffic officials chasing us from the area, and once again denying us the right to earn an income.
On the 19th of January 2016, we decided to sell our remaining belongings, buy a lethal drug overdose and commit suicide. On my way back to the cave I was picked up by a stranger, who took pity on us and offered to take us to another cave, this time in Wilderness where homeless people have been squatting for years. This area was more “informal trade friendly” so I took to washing cars in the public parking areas, and on rainy days I worked on a novel, while my spouse found work as a waitress.
Once able to earn a small income without hindrance it took exactly one month for us to move into a small Wendy Hut in someone’s backyard. Systematically we worked ourselves back up. I decided to call the local DA before the municipal elections, and discuss the possibility of identifying areas from which less privileged people can bring products to market. I was assured that this issue was at the top of their priority list.
After months of saving, I managed to construct a biltong and droëwors manufacturing unit that cure products in a clean and hygienic environment faster than conventional methods. I figured that if I sell pre-manufactured products like biltong, I would stand a better chance of acquiring one of the new stalls, promised before the elections.
Early September 2016 I decided to follow up on the progress relating to the development of these additional trade areas. After my first four attempts to initiate correspondence with Mosselbay local government went unanswered, I escalated my enquiry to provincial level. Several failed attempts to get feedback from provincial government forced me to contact the office of the Premier, after which I was repeatedly referred to different offices, without receiving replies.
Weeks later, Carlin Petersen from the Mosselbay municipality responded, by telling me exactly what they told me a year ago. The promises made by local government with regards to additional facilities that would enable the poor to take part in the local economy, simply didn’t materialize. Any attempts to question this, are simply ignored and swept under the carpet, thus keeping the poor permanently excluded and without a voice.
Why would a government proclaiming that they are encouraging entrepreneurial endeavors, avoid the issue when questioned? Why haven’t they done a thing towards devolving areas where poor people can trade? The initiatives implemented by the DA are clearly designed to serve the middle class. Despite my best efforts, I have been unable to enter the local economy, kept out of trade by bureaucratic rule, municipal bylaws and a financial bar set so high that the poor will never realistically reach.
As for me, I have no idea what my future will bring.
Read the subsequent blog in this series here.