Amid the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, informal food vendors feel that they are at high risk of contracting coronavirus — due to not having gloves, masks and sanitiser to protect themselves, their customers and families from coronavirus’ spread. Health-e News investigated this further, and spoke to hawkers and government officials in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.

Limpopo traders: ‘Government doesn’t take us seriously’

Godfrey Baloyi, from Tyckline outside Tzaneen, sells vegetables and says he operates without protective gear as gloves and masks are sold out in supermarkets.

“I’ve heard of the virus and how dangerous it can be. I know that in countries, like Italy, people are dying. There was supposed to be gloves, masks and sanitisers available for us but they are nowhere to be found. Government should have made them available for us. We are at risk of getting infected but we have no choice, as we have to provide for our families,” he says.

Baloyi, who looks after his wife and three children, believes that the local government has failed food vendors, and doesn’t take their plight seriously.

“Our government, especially in Limpopo, doesn’t take us seriously. I know in other provinces, like Gauteng, vendors are provided with sanitisers and masks to stop the spread of Covid-19, but here in Limpopo it’s a different story, Maybe they don’t care about us,” he says.

He adds: “I meet a lot of people every day and we exchange money. I don’t know them, where they come from and who they have been in contact with. I fear for my life and family because if I get infected they will also be. We are not safe — we are risking it all.”

‘Social distancing nowhere to be seen’

Another food vendor Michael Moremi*, who is from Lenyenye, advocates for a total lockdown to truly freeze the movement of coronavirus.

“If they want to stop the spread of the virus they should administer a total lockdown with no shops operating and everyone staying at home. Right now, they are failing to provide us with sanitisers to keep us safe. People don’t adhere to regulations. Social distancing is nowhere to be seen,” he says.

However, Greater Tzaneen Municipality’s spokesperson, Neville Ndlala, highlights that each ward councillor was given permits to issue but that, at the moment there are no plans to supply small businesses with sanitisers.

“Each councillor has 100 permits, and we have 35 wards — we have not reconciled the total number of permits issued by all councillors. We don’t have plans to supply sanitisers to small businesses, Maybe that can be considered as we move forward,” Ndlala says.

According to Ndlala, the municipality has used a variety of tools to spread the message about Covid-19 protection measures and to disseminate general information about coronavirus — and so the public should be reasonably informed about social distancing protocols, use of gloves and masks and more.

“We deployed drones to disseminate information in a number of villages — these villages are known as hotspots for non-compliance. The information gathered assists us in responding to, or prioritising areas that require urgent intervention.”

Ndladla mentions some other methods used by the municipality, which included loud-haling, radio interviews, adverts, monitoring through officials and councillors and liaising with law enforcement to curb non-adherence to lockdown regulations.   

“We engage with not only the vendors — but also shopping centres, spaza shops, supermarkets to enforce compliance.” he concludes.

Mthatha: PPE is trader’s responsibility 

Hawkers in Mthatha believe that the government doesn’t take their plight seriously, nor their efforts to stimulate the country’s flagging economy. This comes after King Sabatha Dalinyebo Local Municipality states that food traders acquiring protective gear is “their own responsibility.”

Municipal spokesperson, Sonwabo Mampoza, says that the municipality is not responsible for providing hawkers with the gloves and masks — and that they will need to buy personal protective equipment themselves.

 “We have played our part by providing them with permits — it’s their own responsibility about protective gear,” says Mampoza.

 A week ago, Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane visited Mthatha to inspect the Covid-19 readiness of Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital, whilst other officials led a disinfection and sanitising effort at the Mthatha Jubilee taxi rank, and encouraged hawkers to use safety gear to protect themselves from Covid-19’s spread.

‘I don’t feel safe’

 However, on Wednesday, Health-e News visited Mthatha CBD and noticed a number of hawkers selling fruits and vegetables — without masks, gloves or sanitisers in sight.

 Andiswa Nduku, a food vendor who sells fruit, said she feels that the government doesn’t care about black-owned small businesses, as vendors weren’t supplied with any form of personal protective equipment.

 “I sell fruit here at the Mthatha plaza rank, but I really don’t feel safe because I don’t have gloves, masks or sanitiser. We all know that the taxi rank has a lot of people moving through, and it’s not safe at all,” she said.

 She adds: “We also don’t make enough money because we don’t sell a lot of things. We are only allowed to sell fruits. I’m the only one making ends meet at home — I have a household that depends on the little income I make.”

 The hawkers told Health-e News that they are also worried about the health of their customers, especially because of the cash exchanges.

 “We would like the municipality to provide us with gloves, masks and sanitisers because our lives are at risk and we don’t make enough money to buy the required masks and gloves,” added Nduku. 

 The informal food vendors in Mthatha CBD also expressed their disappointment at having to apply for and buy their temporary trading permits — another expense that cut into their already precarious incomes. — Health-e News

For more information on Covid-19 in South Africa, you can call the toll-free line on 0800 029 999, or you can send a message that says “Hi” on WhatsApp to the number 060 012 3456. You can also visit the SA Coronavirus website.