Brian Sokutu
Senior Print Journalist
2 minute read
31 Mar 2020
6:15 am

Crisis in informal sector as 2.5m entrepreneurs can’t work

Brian Sokutu

'I cannot put food on the table or pay the R4,000 residential rent. I understand the need for a lockdown, but how are we going to live?' asked Jane Kabiru.

Pensioner Dora Makopane faces a bleak future due to the national coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Brian Sokutu

For the past five years the ever-busy Central Avenue, bordering Pretoria Road in Kempton Park, has been the unofficial business headquarters of pensioner Dora Makopane, 63.

She realised the R1,800 monthly grant from the South African Social Security Agency would not be enough to feed her family of four children and four grandkids.

So, every day she comes out to sell her wares – from clothes to traditional medicine.

There were times when the Ivory Park grandmother returned home in the evenings with pockets full of money, enough to feed her family, out of sales made from her merchandise.

But Makopane is worried about President Cyril Ramaphosa’s coronavirus lockdown. Sitting forlornly next to her makeshift stand, Makopane has – like a lioness – been braving Gauteng’s scorching sun, heavy rains and winds to put food on the table for her family, with her daily business schedule starting from 7am until at least 8pm.

“While I understand President Ramaphosa’s rationale to take care of our health situation in the country, as small traders who are unregistered, we are going to suffer with our families.

“Relief will be given to those who own registered businesses, but what about us? My kids and grandchildren are going to suffer. What must I do?” asked Makopane.

Kenyan businesswoman Jane Kabiru is one of the informal traders battling to make ends meet due to the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Brian Sokutu

With two South African-born children to look after and paying rent at Kempton Square for an outdoor space to sell bags, cloths and pillows, Kenyan asylum seeker Jane Kabiru said she has mixed feelings about Ramaphosa’s measures.

“I cannot put food on the table or pay the R4,000 residential rent. I understand the need for a lockdown, but how are we going to live?

“With the outbreak of the coronavirus, business has been bad, because people are flooding shops to stock food. In the business that I am in, it only gets busy occasionally, especially in December. Now that we are being compelled to shut down, we do not know what to do.

“I left Kenya after the outbreak of the tribal war in Nyandaran and came to South Africa to start a new life.”

Another street trader, Chris Mbatha, said: “We are now facing destitution. We have families and rent to pay. How are we going to survive?

“For the room I occupy with my family, I pay R1,800. These measures are forcing us to commit crime.”

The informal sector, which includes street traders and spaza shops, accounts for employment and income for about 2.5 million entrepreneurs.

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