Pro Brono Legal Services for ‘Informal’ Traders

By Tasmi Quazi

The Warwick Junction informal trading community and Asiye eTafuleni  (AeT) were featured in the May 2012 Issue, Number 22, of the ProBono.Org  newsletter.  ProBono. Org is a non-governmental organisation that works with the private legal fraternity to provide pro bono legal services to the poor, through specific identified cases and clients.  Their formation was in response to the lack of access to justice for people who are unable to pay for their own private legal representation.  Some of the legal challenges faced by the ‘informal’ traders of Warwick Junction have been taken on as Probono.Org cases, as explained in the newsletter:

Placards from community protests against the proposed demolition of the Early Morning Market – Picture by Gerald Botha

“…In conjunction with AeT, ProBono.Org set out to find attorneys willing to represent micro traders who encounter legal difficulties, such as the confiscation of their goods by police officials or having difficulties in renewing or applying for their trading permits…

…The Warwick Triangle precinct consists of a number of markets (…) the area has a cultural significance that is best represented by the Early Morning Market, a heritage site.  Ironically, it is this very monument that the traders had to fight for, in the face of the eThekwini Municipality’s intention to allow a mall to be contructed in its place.  The fight was greatly enhanced by the willingness of attorneys to represent the traders.”

This relationship between ProBono.Org and AeT was reinforced after both organisations received awards for their work in the civil society sector at the Mail & Guardian Investing in the Future & Drivers of Change Awards 2011 . Download to read the full article. Relating to the difficulty of ‘informal’ traders applying for trading permits, this was revealed to law intern and member of ProBono.Org, Lungelo Magubane, on his very first visit to Warwick Junction.  On visiting the Mealie Market, he was introduced to two distraught mealie sellers needing legal assistance.

These two traders have been selling mealies outside Addington Hospital for a number of years with permission from the hospital management.  For months, the traders had been seeking trading permits from the city government’s line-department, the Business Support Unit (BSU) mandated to work with the ‘informal’ economy, inorder to secure their place of work and legitimise their presence.  However, the traders were sent from pillar to post in trying to meet administrative requirements for acquring the permits, and with no outcome.  For instance, one of the city government’s requirements for allocating spaces for trading to specific ‘informal’ traders is that the traders acquire a letter of support from the adjacent formal entity, business or other, saying they have no objection to the presence of the ‘informal’ trade activity.  This letter was acquired by the traders from the hospital management, and still the BSU failed to issue them trading permits.

Placards from community protests against the proposed demolition of the Early Morning Market – Picture by Gerald Botha

Consequently, Lungelo Magubane initiated a legal intervention by writing to the BSU to query the reason for their non-responsiveness to these two mealie sellers.   Shortly after, the traders were finally issued with trading permits, and with no explanation being given for the delay.  This case has highlighted the value of even the simplest forms of legal assistance to ‘informal’ traders.  It has therefore been strategized that the long-term goal for sustaining this type of legal support is through the establishment of a legal help desk for ‘informal’ traders.

Additionally, a ProBono.Org workshop titled “Legal Assistance to Micro Traders” was conducted by AeT to members of the legal fraternity, hosted at Shepstone and Wiley Attorneys on 23rd April 2012.  Here, the advocates and attorneys asked critical questions around some of the challenges faced by ‘informal traders’, for instance, relating to the cases of excessive enforcement by Metro Police.  As one said:

“Law enforcement should be doing something for the people earning an earnest living – not being so punitive (…) informal workers contribute to the city’s economy, why work against them – work with them”.

Subsequently, a suggestion was the need to improve the effectiveness of Liaison Officers so that they are on the ground instead of the confines of the offices, working with ‘informal’ traders to resolve urban management challenges.  This would potentially reduce the reliance on the Metro Police to enforce the law punitively while enabling them to focus on critical issues of crime in the area.  AeT representatives concur that if a collaborative relationship between urban managers and informal workers is achieved, there would be no need for either punitive enforcement in the area or any type of legal action by ‘informal’ traders.

To read more about other law related support strategies for ‘informal’ traders which AeT has been involved in, click on the links below:

2 thoughts on “Pro Brono Legal Services for ‘Informal’ Traders”

  1. ProBono.Org is presently exploring how to best approach the eThekwini Municipality on behalf of all micro traders, rather than tackling individual cases. Hopefully, once we have the Municipality’s cooperation, the problems highlighted above will subside.

    As always, organisations such as AeT must be commended for the work that they do.

    • Thanks for the comment and encouragement.

      Yes there is value in taking on the general issues as a whole with the Municipality, which is realistically a medium-to-long term mission. However equally important is the necessity for individual cases and as short-term legal interventions. For instance, the case of the Mealie sellers which you were involved in, to large cases such as the Early Morning Market undertaken by the Legal Resources Centre as one of the litigants. Both of these were important milestones in the working lives of informal workers. The Early Morning Market case also highlighted the ongoing need for precedent to be set with regards to public interest cases related to the informal economy.


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