10 September 2012
On Monday, 10th September at 9 a.m. four hundred and thirty (430) determined self-employed pinafore-makers and informal traders convened a mass meeting at 126 Alice Street. It is the the site where they were forcibly evicted from their workplace on Saturday by Durban Metro Police, on the instructions of the Business Support Unit of the eThekwini Municipality. The traders called on the Mayor, James Nxumalo, and new City Manager S`bu Sithole to meet them after discussing what strategy and tactics to proceed to employ to get the eThekwini municipality to respond to their demands, which include the following:
1. Urgent allocation of a building to work in (since Saturday`s eviction from the building they had occupied – where their remaining machinery and equipment is)
2. Appointment of a woman at the Business Support Unit of the eThekwini Municipality to head women`s issues affecting women informal traders;
3. Support for those who lost their machinery and equipment in a fire last week;
4. Suitable and affordable space to sell their pinafores in flea markets.
The previous Saturday afternoon a fire had swept through the Phezulu Lodge building in Umgeni Road which was occupied by pinafore-makers, and much of their stock was destroyed. The cause of the fire is unknown. It is estimated that close to 30-40 workers who depend on their trade as a livelihood have lost their goods and equipment in the fire. Most of the traders were renting these premises, where they produced their pinafore dresses and other items in sweatshop-like conditions, and sold them behind Berea Station, at flea markets, and wherever they can.
An upset Sylvia Khubone said that people were lucky to escape from the burning building, as most of the property is surrounded by electric fences except one gate. “Everything I have owned has been burnt. We don’t know where to start re-building what we lost and we don’t even have a place to go,” she said.
On the 7th August the pinafore-vendors had marched against the exorbitant prices they were charged by the Business Support Unit of the municipality, and presented a memorandum of their grievances, including a demand for the municipality to allocate an unused building to them. However, no word has been forthcoming from the municipality.
After unsuccessful attempts to get the municipality to respond to their demand for the use of the unused building, including a meeting with staff from the Mayor’s office in the city hall, 430 women pinafore-makers occupied a building at 126 Alice Street on Wednesday 5th September, moved their equipment in and re-started work. On Friday 7th September, Councillor Themba Duma, himself formerly an informal trader, attempted to get the women to leave the building – but they said they would only leave the building once they were given another building which they could use instead – something he was apparently not able to offer them.
On Saturday 8th September police arrived to forcibly eject the women. Mzwandile Mavula, Secretary of the Ubumbano Traders Association to which the pinafore- vendors are affiliated, reports that the police used unacceptable levels of violence to force the women out. He and 4 men and 8 women (including pinafore-makers and a lawyer) were subsequently arrested at the scene. They were taken to CR Swart Square, and then released on warning after the Charge Office was besieged by enquiries from supporters, the Legal Resources Centre and StreetNet International, to which Ubumbano Traders Alliance is affiliated.
About 100 evicted pinafore-sellers then gathered outside the Durban City Hall where they agreed to reconvene in a mass meeting at 126 Alice Street, the venue from which they were evicted, at 9 a.m. on Monday 10th September.
Pat Horn, StreetNet International Coordinator, commented “We are hoping that the eThekwini Mayor and City Manager are going to recognise the urgency of addressing the work situation of these 430 pinafore-makers who have lost their livelihoods while waiting for the Municipality to respond to their demands presented after their march on the 7th August. These women are supporting large numbers of dependants – and have the same right to Decent Work as workers in the formal sector, which in this case the Municipality is in the best position to assist them to attain. We strongly recommend that the Municipality put in place a negotiations process with the committee elected by the pinafore-vendors as soon as possible.”