Young traders relish in an undesirable and 'dirty' job

Informal traders Bonga Mbucane and Kgosi Mashigo at the People's Market in City Deep.
Informal traders Bonga Mbucane and Kgosi Mashigo at the People's Market in City Deep.
Image: Kgaugelo Masweneng

At 21, Bonga Mbucane is the youngest trader at the People's Market in City Deep, Johannesburg, where he sells lemons at what was once his mother's stall.

It is here, in the open-trade fruit and veg market, that he makes his living - and he hopes that a major investment from the City of Johannesburg could make that a little easier.

On Monday, mayor Herman Mashaba announced a R144m expansion to the People's Market, which is linked and runs alongside the more formal Joburg Market, the largest fresh produce market in Africa by volume and value.

The People's Market houses 71 informal traders, giving them "the opportunity to generate their own income, often allowing them to educate their children or buy a house", said Mashaba.

It currently handles about R250m in annual purchasing.

Once the upgrade is complete, there will be an additional 28 stalls.

Mbucane started coming to the market when he was 16 to help his mother with her lemon stall. He is currently the youngest trader at the informal market.

Although he is a third-year accounting student at the University of Johannesburg, the young man has found purpose in the market. His two years of studies were paid off with the money made from selling lemons.

"On face value we are filthy, poor people, but we are living.

"We are the humble link between the consumer and the farmers. Our biggest customers are foreign traders in the CBD and [on the] streets. They buy from us in bulk and then sell to people," he said.

But recent xenophobic attacks in Johannesburg were bad for business, Mbucane said.

"They don't come anywhere close to City Deep because they are afraid they might get attacked," he said.

After completing his studies, Mbucane is looking into expanding the business and becoming a producer.

"For as long as we live, people will eat. After learning what I learnt here, I know one can never go wrong," he said.

He said the traders needed a cold room closer to their market. "We spend a lot of money on transporting the goods to the cold room and then pay for storage daily. So, we desperately need one close by that will be ours. We are doing so well. We just need infrastructural support. The sun affects the life-span [of fruits and veg] and we struggle during the rainy season," he said.

He said bananas were big business throughout the year, while vegetables proved more lucrative in winter than fruit.

Kgosi Mashigo, 23, trades in bananas. "I was shocked when I found out how much people make here. We are told to go to school and stay clean, but this life is actually worth all the dirt. Life has been good since I came here. We are independent. Nothing beats running a business that's so fulfilling."

His sick grandmother owned the stall he now runs.

"With high unemployment, young people should diversify their thinking when it comes to making a living. I am able to pay two of my workers about R4,000 each [a month]. I pay rent and afford my other life expenses," Mashigo said.

Mashaba said the upgrades would include building a cold room, a new taxi rank, a generator plant, an upgraded road and electrical and waste infrastructure.

This project will target women and youth, Mashaba said.

Ayanda Kanana, CEO of the Joburg Market, said people's lives were positively impacted by their contribution to the market.

"The dignity of our traders has suffered under uncaring conditions, enduring all weather conditions and handling products under unsuitable conditions," Kanana said.

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