No savings, no income - Informal traders brace themselves for the national lockdown

The 21-day lockdown has left informal traders bracing themselves for the worst, having already seen their business drop significantly since the first indications of a national shutdown. 

Only "essential" businesses, such as supermarkets, pharmacies, hospitals, banks and petrol stations, will be operating, leaving informal traders and domestic workers unsure of how they will survive the next three weeks.

Small Business Development Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said that "a national debt relief facility" would be made available for small medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs).

There are also special provisions in the Unemployment Insurance Fund for traditional businesses.

But when it comes to the informal economy, things are unclear.

According to Stats South Africa's 4th quarter 2019 Quarterly Labour Force Survey, about three million people work in South Africa's informal sector. This includes domestic workers, street vendors and waste pickers. They have no safety net.

On Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that "a safety net is being developed to support persons in the informal sector, where most businesses will suffer as a result of this shutdown". He said more details would follow.

Lockdown

Ilhaam Benjamin has been selling flowers for over 40 years. (Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp)


"We are survivors since we started our business," said Ilhaam Benjamin, a florist at the famous Trafalgar Place flower market in Adderley Street.

Sharply declined

She said for the past three weeks, business has sharply declined, starting with business from churches and weddings.

"That is where the struggle began … We are people that survive from hand to the mouth on a weekly basis."

Benjamin said that she doesn't have savings to fall back on. "Whatever we earn, we immediately have to spend to feed our children."

In a good week, Benjamin said, she makes between R1 000 and R1 500. With that, she has to pay her employees and feed her children.

During the lockdown, she will stay home with eight children and her husband.

"We are a lot of people, but we'll pray and hope that God will be on our side," she said.

But she added that she was more than happy to participate in the lockdown if it stopped the disease.

lockdown

Peter Kariuki said that he doesn't have enough savings to last for the 21-day lockdown. (Ashraf Hendricks)


"It's a hard thing, but we don't have a choice," said Peter Kariuki, who runs a small jewellery and hat store under a gazebo.

Kariuki is concerned about the 21-day lockdown. He doesn't have any savings, he said. He is originally from Kenya, and the stall has been his main source of income for 10 years.

He said business already declined before the pandemic.

"We have not been in a position to save," he said.

Kariuki said he would only have enough food for the first week. After that "I don't know what to do," he said.

"I don't know how to feel," added Omar Ebrahim, who runs a small street shop that sells cooldrinks, chips, sweets and cigarettes.

"It's going to be tough."

Unsure

Originally from Somalia, Ebrahim has been trading for eight years.

He is not sure how he'll pay the rent. On his current income he is unable to buy enough food to last 21 days.

"I'll try my best," he said.

Calls have been made to continue paying domestic workers and gardeners during the lockdown, but there is no legislation in place.

Somizi Mhlongo, a South African presenter and Idols SA judge with 2.9 million Instagram followers, has called on citizens to support street vendors before the lockdown.

"Buy what you can, what you need, but also what you can get at any other supermarket. The supermarkets are going to survive, they (the street vendors) won't survive the 21 days," Mhlongo said in a video.