DA calls for clarity and consistency in applying lockdown regulations to spaza shops

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to Small Business Development Minister, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, requesting a clear and public pronouncement from her on the question of spaza shops being allowed to operate during the lockdown, and urging a consistent application of the regulations, in line with the rule of law.

The Minister previously said during a ministerial briefing that all spaza shops in communities would be allowed to operate during the lockdown period (as explicitly provided for in paragraph B of Annexure B, in reference to Regulation 11A, which deals with essential services). However she went on to muddy the waters by saying that “those spaza shops that will be open are strictly those that are owned by South Africans, managed and run by South Africans”.

This is a hugely problematic statement for two reasons:

  • There is no provision in the regulations for differentiation between South African- and immigrant-owned spaza shops, so there is no basis in law to target micro-retailers for closure according to the nationality of the owner(s); and
  • Spaza shops are usually the closest shop for residents in most communities to get basic foodstuffs and household essentials. If the idea of the lockdown is to have “as little movement as possible”, as was said by Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, then spaza shops need to be open, now more than ever, otherwise the lockdown is rendered ineffective if people have to go to shopping malls, thus travelling and congregating in larger numbers.

Furthermore, many such residents do not have a means of transport (with minibus taxi and bus operations being suspended or heavily curtailed) or the money to travel, should they find the transport to take them shopping.

I will also ask Minister Ntshavheni to communicate with her counterpart in the Police portfolio, Minister Bheki Cele, concerning police action in this regard.

We have received reports of SAPS officers being confused about whether or not to close unlicensed spaza shops (regardless of ownership) and an executive directive is needed informing the police that such spaza shops must be allowed to remain open, in aid of ensuring minimal movement by consumers during the lockdown, but must then be referred to the local municipality or Small Business Development Department to assist them to become compliant.

The DA understands that the various state organs are navigating uncharted waters during this unprecedented time but the authorities should not miss the wood for the trees and thus lose sight of the substantive issues underpinning the lockdown.