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Alexandra food seller has a permit but soldiers closed him down

30 March 2020 - 10:54 By Naledi Shange
A business owner says police and defence force members need to be consistent when applying the rules to those trying to operate businesses during the lockdown.
A business owner says police and defence force members need to be consistent when applying the rules to those trying to operate businesses during the lockdown.
Image: 123RF/Rafal Olkis

An Alexandra business owner said on Monday it was difficult to operate his establishment during the coronavirus lockdown as, within a matter of days, police officers and soldiers patrolling the townships were applying different rules to businesses.

Bhekisisa Ncube, who runs a food business, said before the lockdown he had applied for a permit online and was able to show it to soldiers who patrolled the township's streets for the first two days of the lockdown. TimesLIVE was present on Friday when soldiers used his shop as a pit stop, allowing him to continue operating on the first day of the 21-day lockdown. 

On Sunday, however, according to Ncube, a new team of soldiers who arrived at his establishment told him his  permit was null and void.

“They came here and threatened to beat me. They said I think I am special,” Ncube told TimesLIVE. “I showed them the permit but they did not care,” he said.

The permit he produced showed he was registered under the spaza/grocery store category.

As of March 26, the lives of many South Africans will be fundamentally changed. This is after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a nationwide lockdown. This step - which the president said was drastic but necessary - will see millions of South Africans restricted to their homes and many services being unavailable.Here's all you need to know about who is exempt from the lockdown and which businesses will stay open.

Ncube believes he is operating legally.

As part of the requirements for operating his business, Ncube said he had to always have hand sanitiser available at his business and his customers were not allowed to eat on his premises.

“I tried to comply. I removed all the chairs where my customers would normally sit and I have my sanitisers,” he said.

According to Ncube, the soldiers who arrived on Sunday dispersed his customers before he could even produce his permit. “The government is saying people should shop near their homes but soldiers are sending people to go and shop at Pick n Pay,” said Ncube. “There are people who rely on my business, like the elderly, who stand to suffer,” he said.

Ncube said he was cooking for several elderly people at his shop. They would come and get a warm, home-cooked meal each day and pay at the end of the month after receiving their social grants.

“There are also people who work for me and get paid daily. They will suffer. I have tried to comply with the law but these laws really don’t apply to us,” he said. “The government tells people what to do but the messages are not reaching law enforcers,” said Ncube.

He was worried about the future.

“My business will die,” he told TimesLIVE.

Members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the police took to the streets of Johannesburg in the early hours of March 27 2020 to enforce the curfew set for the country's lockdown. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 21-day national lockdown between midnight of March 26 2020 until April 16 2020.