Covid-19 hot spot claims a blow to business

A letter from the City of Cape Town inviting informalbusinesses to a meeting states that Gatesville is a Covid-19 hot spot.

Just days after the City called Gatesville a Covid-19 hot spot, it flip-flopped and said it wasn’t, leaving businesses fuming over the damage the claim did to trade.

The City issued letters to all traders on Tuesday November 3, saying the economic hub was a virus hot spot and it wanted to move traders between Hazel and Mavis roads to a parking lot ahead of the busy festive season to make more space for pedestrians and stop the virus’s spread.

But then on Friday November 13, mayoral committee member for urban management Grant Twigg told the Athlone News the economic hub wasn’t a hot spot for Covid but rather a hot spot for congestion, which could spread Covid-19.

Business owners claim they saw sharp drop-offs in trade, following the City’s hot spot announcement, at a time when they are still trying to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.

Hassan Tayob, a spokesman for the Gatesville Formal Traders Association, said there had been an immediate impact on sales.

“We were very disappointed when the City made the statement that Gatesville is a Covid-19 hot spot as this is not correct, and there are no stats that indicate this. We saw an immediate decline in the number of shoppers after the City’s statement.”

Informal trader Imtiaz Shaik, who sells cooked food, said the announcement had also cost him: he usually sold four pots of curry over the weekend, but could now only sell one.

Another trader, Moegamat Hassiem, said “it is a complete lie” to call Gatesville a Covid-19 hot spot.

“We have so many diabetic people around here, and most of my customers are old people. I always cater for the seniors. If this was a hot spot, then so many of us would have been affected, but I still have my regular customers.”

The announcement fuelled suspicions among informal traders that Covid was being used to force them out of lucrative trading spots close to formal businesses.

Naeem Frances, who has been drafting letters to the City on behalf of the traders, said Covid-19 was being “used as a ploy by some influential business and property owners located between Hazel and Mavis roads, in conjunction with the City” to bully the traders and stop their “decades-old and humble livelihoods”.

But Mr Tayob denied that, saying the formal businesses also stood to lose if the informal traders moved.

“We, as formal traders, need the informal traders as much as they need us, and we have a mutually beneficial relationship. They make customers feel welcomed to the area, and we are very co-operative with each other.

“We want them to feel comfortable, and, like us, they operate within Covid-19 regulations. There is definitely no ploy from formal businesses to have them moved from their current zones. However, I remember not too long ago, there was a proposal from the City to move the informal traders. This proposal was opposed by both formal and informal traders.”

Mr Twigg said the City’s plan to prevent the virus spreading in the area wasn’t meant to scare people.

“There is quite a lot of movement on the sidewalks in Gatesville. To prevent the picking up of Covid-19 infections, we have an intervention plan. There is only so much that can happen on a pavement, and we are asking informal traders to take responsibility as we work on prevention.”

Mr Twigg said the City wanted to protect lives and livelihoods.

“It is not accurate that formal businesses did not want informal traders to be temporarily moved from the pavement. In a meeting held on Thursday November 5 with the formal businesses, the temporary relocation plan was discussed extensively. All the businesses who were at the meeting agreed to the temporary move but also gave additional recommendations to the plan for the City to consider.”

Congestion by vehicles and pedestrians, particularly on Saturdays, had been a worry for a while, he said, adding that the City had done a traffic study in 2018 to address the issue.

“Hence it is one of the focus areas to alleviate congestion with the aim of mitigating the spread of Covid-19,” he said. “It is also worth noting that the risk reduction strategy does not only comprise the temporary relocation of traders only but also the temporary closure of roads over weekends as well.”

Ward councillor Aslam Cassiem said he would call an urgent meeting with City officials, as he had heard that all stakeholders had agreed to the plan but had later learnt that there had been no real consultation.

“Under no circumstances must the City implement anything on their own. They cannot make a decision without taking into consideration all the stakeholders. We will deal urgently with officials -they must not do their own thing,” Mr Cassiem said.

Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for community services and health said the Covid-19 case load in the metro had been stable over the past two months.

“Localised clusters have been identified and actioned accordingly through rigorous case and contact tracing to prevent further spread. The most effective mechanism we have to prevent another surge of Covid-19 infections is for the citizens of Cape Town to continue to follow the golden rules of social distancing, wearing a mask and hand hygiene.

“This is even more important as we head into the holiday season,” he said.