Opinionista Mmusi Maimane 2 December 2013

Operation Clean Sweep: End the crackdown on small business

In recent days we have witnessed a crackdown on informal traders in Johannesburg at the hands of the government in a way that’s reminiscent of apartheid-era force. These are the people who we should be doing everything possible to help and support. Instead we see armed metro police moving to evict traders who are legally making the money they need to educate and feed their children.

Small businesses, informal-business people and entrepreneurs are the basis of a growing economy that can create jobs and opportunities for people in Gauteng and in the country as a whole. And being an entrepreneur, or a trader, or small-business owner is a volatile and difficult space in the scheme of things. The last thing that people who are minding their own business need is for government to come in and destroy their livelihood.

Few appreciate the challenges and risk of going it alone in business. I have run my own small business, where everything was staked on that enterprise finding a way to bring in customers and deliver what they need. Like the traders of Johannesburg, I have felt the sharp discomfort of unpredictable times. But when that unpredictability comes from the very government meant to help you get ahead, then something is fundamentally wrong.

Over the years we have witnessed the roll-out of improved services and improved infrastructure to places where there was so much need.

Under former presidents of this country we saw things start to improve. And from these basic improvements we saw people start to take opportunities to improve their lives, to start businesses and to put food on the table. This includes the small-business owners and traders of the Johannesburg metro.

But today we know that things have gone horribly wrong. It seems that corruption has taken hold in every corner of this government and has led to personal enrichment at the top and the draining of opportunity from those below. We are still awaiting the public protector’s final report on Nkandla, but for now it seems that President Zuma sits squarely at the top of the pyramid of corruption.

This is the very corruption that kills economic growth and eliminates jobs. Yet when people attempt to start their own enterprises, they are beaten down by Zuma’s ANC government in Johannesburg.

It becomes clear as to how out of touch the government of the city and the province is when we contrast the basic subsistence being denied to traders with the lavish life of Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane.

This week I felt great sadness for the people of Gauteng when I learned that she intends to spend R570,000 of our money on her swimming pool. More than half a million rand for a luxury in her garden, while so many go without even a roof over their heads.

In fact, since 2004 more than R14-million has been spent on her house. I have to ask how this is justified in a province where so many people go to bed at night in the most basic living conditions.

This is why, where my party governs, we have passed regulations to cut out spending on houses, cars, credit cards, parties and everything of that sort, which the ANC holds dear. Instead we have spent the money where it counts – on service delivery.

My party’s track record where we govern is one that stands in stark contrast to that of Zuma’s ANC in Johannesburg, in fact it is the exact opposite of “Clean Sweeping” informal traders away – instead we work to support and accommodate traders in every way we can.

Every DA local government has set out to build relations with traders and to hand them licences to trade where they capture the market. In addition, traders in our local governments are protected through by-laws that set out their trading tenure and allow them freedom to trade within it. But most importantly, every single DA local government has an ever-increasing number of dedicated spaces in high-traffic corridors given to informal traders, with the necessary infrastructure and equipment to help them succeed.

Where we govern, we establish informal traders’ associations, and assist in the election of leaders to liaise on their behalf. And then we ensure that their voice is always heard and is included in planning that affects them. We invite them to small-business forums and facilitate their involvement. We roll out small-business hubs, where they are most needed by traders, and bring in private funding to support them in partnership. We open the doors to one-stop shops where small-business owners can come for business advice and make use of internet facilities, free of charge.

Recently we saw an ANC-led protest through the City of Cape Town that resulted in violent attacks on traders and small businesses, destroying some of them, looting stock and injuring many people. It was the DA-led City of Cape Town who went to court to fight for these traders and to stop such violence happening again. We will always stand up for the people who are out there each day, making a living and growing our economy.

And it is precisely these people in Gauteng who we are standing up for when we vehemently oppose e-tolls. The trader from Orange Farm who has to drive into the city to buy his stock at the best prices and passes through five e-toll gantries cannot afford to pay hundreds of rands a month to Sanral (the South African National Roads Agency Ltd) for this daylight robbery. When profit margins are small, as they are for small business, why does the government penalise them with more and more taxation for roads that could have been paid for with the fuel levy we are all already paying?

So where the government today fleeces these people, we will make their business easier. We will fight e-tolls with everything we have. I have also pledged in this space to open government tender processes so that everyone can see who wins each tender. Furthermore, I intend to pay all government suppliers on time and cut down on wasteful expenditure to spend money on services that people need.

Most importantly, we will never use force to stop people from earning a living when all they want is to get ahead.

I am running to be Premier of Gauteng because I believe that we can make change a reality in this province. We must vote against police beatings, we must vote against lavish houses for the Premier, and we must vote against a government that has lost touch with the people.

Change is in our hands. Our destiny is in our hands. DM


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