Street Vendors – Another Perspective
Monday, 20 September 2021
In Johannesburg, and surroundings, we have all kinds of people at traffic lights trying to sell things, beg, do co-ordinated beer crate dances and more. On the sides of the roads there are informal traders selling handmade stick fences, dog kennels and boxes. There are food stalls and barbers. All of the above, with the exception of begging, are what the Western world would call illegal, unlicensed, unregistered, non-contributors to any levy or tax. They leave a mess, they have no formal toilets, they disrupt traffic flow and some use the situation to vandalize and steal from passing motorists.
Another perspective is that many of these people have taken it upon themselves to earn a living. They simply take responsibility for themselves knowing that the State does not. They get up early, fight for their spot, and trade as they best know how within the constraints noted above. Some do the late shift and go ‘home’ late. They essentially use their best wits and skills (their humanity) to enter into the economy by providing for the material needs of others. They obviously survive this way and are far less of a burden on the State than many others because of this. This is surely something to work with and nurture because these people are taking accountability for self. Some of these initiatives do find their way into the formal sector. They enter the formal economy with some of the inputs that they purchase as well as when they use the fruits of their trading for buying personal necessities. They remain outside the formal sector in their own trading. Their profits are not taxed, they don’t pay VAT, PAYE, UIF or personal tax. They don’t comply with health and safety regulations and so on.
The reason that they are at traffic lights and on the road verges is because this is where their market is. Their market is not in formal shopping centres. They simply don’t have the skills to add sufficient value to their goods and services or to comply with laws and regulations. They do however take responsibility for their own wellbeing.
A viable way forward here, as offered in the conceptual clarity of the Threefold Social Order, is to provide more organised trading environments and locations where there are toilets and there is waste management and cleaning that happens. These mini markets need to be set up with the consultation of the traders in such a way that they remain close to the markets that they serve. The Rights sphere could ‘tax’ these traders in some way like rental for a stand. They could allow the informal nature to some extent because these people are taking ownership of their situation in life. The Liberty sphere could have training and development offices within the training precincts to train these people in anything valuable to them and in how to progress into the formal sector.
In essence what one is seeing in this informal sector is that the current State is failing to recognise the ever present human spirit that is willing to take responsibility. The State needs to let the human spirit in people flourish and bring it into formal trading areas and compliance as suggested above and fund skills development and legal knowledge at these points. Where the State feels that it should be accountable for the wellbeing of the poor by overtaxing the formal sector, they could probably do better by at least providing the means for the initiatives within the being of the poor to ‘become’. By simply allowing anything at any intersection or pavement, one slowly brings about lawlessness, and a treacle like effect on the formal sector which provides most jobs and tax revenues. On the other hand, by recognising the undying abundance of human spirit that wishes to take accountability of self, even at the most elementary levels, and facilitating the infrastructure and training necessary for their progress, they would be doing better than locking these people out of life by trying to keep everything in line with Western or Communistic State dominance in their thinking.