Filling gaps in the market – and along the pavement

By Babongile Zulu

Without even having to enter a store, Grahamstonians can buy bags, sunglasses, earrings, caps and much more. All this is available by simply strolling down High Street. Vendors sit under their umbrellas come rain or shine, selling their goodies for as little as R5. Grahamstown’s informal traders are filling a gap in the market for affordable goods, which any student can appreciate.

They are the men and women who make their living by selling whatever they can. One trader, Johannes Tladi, who is probably better known as ‘the guy who sells earrings outside Jet’, has been selling his products for six years now. The manager of Jet, Mongezi Hermans, says that Tladi’s business does not affect him at all. Tladi and Jet sell different stuff, so it is no problem whatsoever,” says Hermans. Tladi even makes some of the earrings himself, just by looking at what styles women might like. “I’ve got goods and I sell them at low prices,” says Tladi. Another trader who sells earrings amongst other merchandise is Sipho Loloza. He says that he has been in Grahamstown for about three years. Loloza has his business set up just outside Mr Price. With a grin and proudly pointing to his stock, Loloza says, “Everything from here is R5, over here is R7 and the rest is R10.” He says that sometimes business is tough, and he has to close down his stall from time to time. Vuyokazi Komsani and Phumeza Nombewu have been selling bags and caps along High Street for three and four years respectively. Nombewu sits just beside Loloza along High Street and also operates a phone line. Komsani can be found as soon as you step out of CNA, wearing her shy smile and all huddled up if it happens to be a cold day. Informal traders have to be registered on the Municipality’s systems database. According to Municipal spokesperson, Thandy Matebese, all they have to do is register, then pay R10 a month rent to keep their stalls open. The ladies who sit under the Drostdy Arch from Monday to Saturday are also part of the High Street informal economy and have been a feature in Grahamstown’s arts and crafts market for ten years now. “While we sit here all day, we are busy beading new things,” says one of the ladies, Nothembile Sandi. She sits with her business partners, Esther Yapi and Nomathemba Maki. “We all learnt from each other how to bead, but we also make other things, like clothes,” adds Sandi. “We also make things for people who put in orders, maybe for weddings.” The ladies buy their raw materials from a wholesaler in Grahamstown, but say that it is becoming increasingly expensive. This means that their prices also have to increase from time to time. Although they usually make more money during the National Arts Festival, this year they did not make nearly as much because there were more traders around than in previous years. Economics Masters student, Sandisiwe Ncube said that the informal business sector is hugely important to the economy. “Because of the high unemployment levels, street hawkers are able to sustain themselves and possibly create jobs for others in the process.” The Entrepreneurship Initiative that helps people set up stalls is part of the municipality’s Local Economic Development portfolio. To further assist the hawkers, the municipality donated warm winter clothing to them just before the annual National Arts Festival. “The municipality felt that they had done nothing to thank the traders for being a part of Grahamstown’s business sector and dutifully paying their rent every month. It was our little way of saying thank you,” concludes Matebese.

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