Great cities the world over have a vibrant street life, and Cape Town’s no different. Trading stalls may crowd the sidewalks – and make the local game of jaywalking a bit harder – but they contribute to that indescribable mix that makes this city one of the must-visit places on earth.
In winter, the sidewalk isn’t a warm or comfortable place to make a living, and this is when traders appreciate the support of the people who live and work in the city.
Sandra* is the third generation of flower sellers in her family that have sold flowers at the iconic Trafalgar Place market in Adderley Street. While her takings are very modest – even more so in winter – the money has helped this breadwinner raise three children, now all in their mid-20’s, and two grandchildren.
“What can I say? I love my job. I’ve been a flower seller for 20 years. It helps to feed my children and grandchildren,” she told CityLife. Business is bad at the moment, but she’s looking ahead to the summer, especially the festive season, and special occasions such as Valentine’s Day and Eid, when lots more people splash out on a bunch or two.
“It’s my birthday today. I’ll pose for you with our national flower,” she said, posing with some proteas.
“What can I say? I love my job. I’ve been a flower seller for 20 years. It helps to feed my children and grandchildren.”
Across the road is Salie’s* fruit and vegetable stall. He has been trading in Adderley Street for 24 years.
“I started in 1992 and things became a bit more formalised in 1994. We were monitored to check if we were regular traders and eventually obtained permits,” he recalled. His designated area is clearly marked in yellow lines, but he is using less space than he has been allocated.
“Business is bad in winter and there is a lot of competition. People prefer to buy fruit in summer.” But despite hard times, Salie is not short of company. This is evident by the number of people who pass by and greet him, while others stop to chat.
On Plein Street, across from the Grand Parade, Clint* has been trading fruit and vegetables for eight years and employs three people – two temporary and one permanent. Like Salie, he buys his goods from the fresh produce market in Epping.
“It’s really easy to renew my permit. I pay R170 per month and have to renew it every month."
One challenge is the availability of public toilets. "When we need the toilet, we can either use the toilets in the Golden Acre or Grand Central buildings but have to pay about R2.”
Outside Grand Central, close to the Western Cape education department’s office, Andile Olifant sells dried fruit and mebos in an area that is managed by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). “We have to pay about R3 000 a month here. It’s hard. We aren’t that busy right now and when protests happen, we can’t trade at all.”
Rizwan Ahmed, from Pakistan, has been selling boerewors rolls in Adderley Street for three years. “I like what I do. I trade for six days a week and have a permit with the City of Cape Town. I start at 09:30 and work until 17:30 and then store my goods. I have to pay R2 000 each month for storage.”
Despite the competitiveness and differences the informal traders have, they also have much in common – including surviving the low seasons, which takes some perserverance. In the words of one trader: “you can’t be taught to do this. Either you have it or you don’t”.
*Surnames have been withheld on request.