On Tuesday morning the Greater Tzaneen Municipality embarked on a cleanup operation in the town’s CBD. They were accompanied by members of the GTM’s Traffic Department and their sole purpose was to ensure the removal of the illegal street vendors who plague the pavements along Danie Joubert Street.
These hawkers have been a serious issue in Tzaneen for many years and this publication has reported on a number of attempts to have them permanently removed in the past. Each time they are removed and their rickety, unsightly wooden tables and stalls broken down and removed, they would return the very next day and it would be business again as usual. In 2006 the hawkers who did not have permits to trade in this area were removed by the municipality and clearly demarcated zones were painted onto the pavement in bright red paint.
During Tuesday’s operation however, some of the hawkers became aggressive as the municipal truck approached their stalls. They started screaming obscenities at the law enforcement officers and soon their intimidating advances and screams spilled over into action. A physical confrontation ensued between a group of hawkers and three of the traffic officers. One of the officers produced his pistol and warned the hawkers to stand down. When they refused, he fired off a warning shot into the ground.
Rather than the group dispersing, the scene turned into one of absolute chaos as hundreds of people from all across the CBD came running into the middle of the street. The GTM officials were forced to flee to the safety of the police station situated opposite the Tzaneng Mall. The unruly crowd followed like a wave up the steps of the station. Inside the building police officers were sceen locking the doors.
Once at the police station it became apparent that one man was wounded by what appeared to have been a gunshot to the chest area. It is unclear whether the bullet fired from the weapon of the traffic officer could have ricocheted and hit him, or whether he was intentionally shot. The crowd however did not care and continued to scream profanities at the now locked doors to the police station and the officers standing guard on its steps.
A short while after later an ambulance arrived and the wounded man was transported to Van Velden hospital. The crowd then started to disperse. One of the hawkers made the allegation to a passerby that the hawkers had retaliated out of anger as he alleged that some of the traffic officers who were removing them from their pavement stands, were in fact the same ones who were receiving money from them every month in order to trade there. These serious allegations have not been confirmed at the time of gong to print. We have requested information on the matter.
Following the incident, we asked provincial SAPS spokesperson, Col Moatshe Ngoepe whether the traffic officer who fired his weapon in the middle of the street would be arrested for attempted murder considering that one individual was wounded. At the time of going to print we had not received any feedback from him.
The next day it was business as usual at Danie Joubert Street again. There have been no plans laid bare in regards to where the hawkers would be moved to should they be forced off the pavements. It is illegal for them to trade there, nonetheless, but the onus does rest with the municipality to ensure that they are provided with safe trading space where they can make a living without posing a health and safety risk to the rest of the community.