Hawkers share lockdown hardships

Mphutumi Kato, left, and Zolani Kom say despite the challenges, their will to provide for their families motivates them to go to work every day
Mphutumi Kato, left, and Zolani Kom say despite the challenges, their will to provide for their families motivates them to go to work every day
Image: Supplied

As suddenly as lockdown was announced, hawkers’ livelihoods ground to an abrupt halt and their pockets were left as bare as the streets.

The informal business sector in SA has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with people in the sector relying on making an income on a daily basis.

A Korsten vendor said it had become a situation of do or die for his family.

“My wife breastfeeds, we needed groceries and this forced me to choose between having to quarantine. I could be safe but be hungry, or risk my life because my family had to eat,” he said.

The Zimbabwean man, who asked not to be named, works on the streets of Korsten plaiting dreadlocks, and is not the only one in the informal business who continues to suffer under lockdown regulations.

“During the early stages of the lockdown we couldn’t work. I tried to apply for the R350 Sassa social relief grant but the Sassa officials wouldn’t allow me to.

“They even said the president had never said foreign nationals could apply, but I have a permit to work in SA. The borders are closed, we can’t go home.

“I have two children, one four years old and the other six months. I have to work,” he said.

He said many of his clients now called him to do their hair at home, as he was continually being harassed by police and soldiers.

Rastafarian hawker Mphutumi Kato said: “The lockdown was announced at short notice. I wasn’t able to save money to buy groceries as I relied on making money daily.”  

Kato, 39, sells traditional herbs such as the much-sought-after artemisia afra, popularly known as umhlonyane, and imphempho, or incense, in Durban Road in Korsten.

He claimed that before the lockdown he would make at least R300 a day, which he used to support his family of five.

And as the sole breadwinner in his family he was forced to continue working during the lockdown, he said.

“On the first day of the lockdown it was like a ghost town, there were no people. There were only two hawkers, myself and a lady who sells fruit and vegetables.

“During the early stages of the lockdown the police would arrive and kick our table of herbs. They would threaten to arrest us, and out of fear of being beaten up I would apologise though I’d be thinking they are kicking my bread,” Kato said.


Missionvale resident Elton Jancan, 36, who lives with his family of five and is the only breadwinner, said he too had been faced with the decision to either flout regulations or starve when the lockdown was announced.

Before the lockdown, Jancan collected cans and other scrap metal to sell and he would earn about R100 a day.

He used the money to buy maize meal, oil, cake flour and  baking powder for making bread.

“I’d look for any food that I could find on the streets for me and my family. During the lockdown, the scrapyard was closed so I couldn’t get any money for food for my family.

“In the early stages of the lockdown we had to stay at home. I couldn’t do anything for my family, we had to sit inside our home.

“We waited for our Sassa food parcels but we didn’t get them.

“This forced me to go out every day to look for something to eat,” Jancan said.

Nomzekelo Majola, 57, a hawker at the Central taxi rank, said being the sole breadwinner in a house of seven people meant she too had to work regardless of regulations. “When we were gone, they broke into my container looking for food, they burnt it. I sell fruit, cigarettes, chips and sweets.

“Before the lockdown I’d make profits mostly from the cigarettes. I’d make R1,000 a day from mostly cigarettes. Now that we’ve returned, it’s difficult to even make R300.

“During the lockdown I signed up to get the Sassa food parcels, but I never got it. Everyone at home is hungry.”

Majola  said there weren’t any school pupils to buy snacks, the working class mostly bought fruit, there weren’t any cigarettes and business was very slow.

John Tafuruka, a fruit and veg hawker in Central near SPAR, said people in the sector were simply trying to do their best for their families.

“The vegetable business is slow, because people are at home. We’re doing this just to survive, roughly in a day we make R500, but when you subtract the stock price you find you made R150 profit.”