Durban: “Questions over cops seizing traders` goods”, The Mercury, Kamini Padayachee

7 May 2010

The Durban Legal Resources Centre has questioned the practice of metro police confiscating traders` goods.

This comes after Nomusa Ngema, of Umgababa on the South Coast, was charged in March for trading illegally and had her bundle of clothing she had been carrying on her head confiscated. Ngema, who works as a seamstress and sews aprons, said she was charged while walking down the road.

"I sew aprons and supply them to a street trader who sells them. On that day I was walking to the trader to give her the clothing. I was approached by a metro police officer. She did not ask me where I was going or what I was doing. She said I must have a permit if I want to trade and then gave me a fine and took my clothing."

Ngema said she was given a warning letter to appear in court on April 27 – a public holiday, when courts are closed.

Streetnet referred her case to the Legal Resources, that requested further particulars about the charge, and it was withdrawn on Tuesday.

A relieved Ngema said she went to the police station on Wednesday to retrieve her goods.

The Centre`s regional director Mahendra Chetty said the case could point to harassment by metro police. "Ngema`s case is important because it could be similar to others in the informal sector. It might be a broader pattern of harassment heading up to the World Cup.

"We have been approached by Streetnet and others who have asked us to investigate the constitutionality of confiscating goods."

Metro police spokeswoman Joyce Khuzwayo said the officer was within her rights to fine the woman. "If the woman is supplying goods to someone selling them then she needs a permit."

But Chetty said that if that was the metro police`s attitude, then every trader who stopped for a few minutes and put down their goods would need a permit.