Human rights inquiry : A toxic mix of job scarcity, fake goods and xenophobia fuel anger against foreign traders

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Over two days this week, The SA Human Rights Commision heard submissions from local and foreign traders, among others, in a bid to unearth the underlying causes of the recent looting of shops in Soweto.

After recent remarks by the health department regarding the sale of fake goods and the death of three people amid looting of shops owned by foreign nationals in Soweto, the South African Human Rights Commision hosted a two-day inquiry into the sale of expired or fake goods and the implications on local and foreign communities.

On Thursday, 13 September, day two of the inquiry, the commission heard submissions from the South African Spaza and Tuck Shop Association (SASTA). The association said government’s failure to create jobs and to properly regulate immigration was at the heart of the discontent with foreign nationals.

This was in response to proceedings on day one of the inquiry, when the commission heard submissions on behalf of migrant business owners. The Somali Community Board had argued that the cause of the violence was in large part the result of misconceptions about Somalis.

Member of the Somali Community Board, Amir Sheik, said government was aware of where they sourced their goods — they did not themselves produce any of the items they sold.

However, president of SASTA Rose Nkosi said South African traders worked hard to comply with municipal by-laws, had to open bank accounts and obtain SARS documents and were forced to share limited space with many people.

Nkosi called for some foreign nationals to be deported because they took business from the South Africans, who had a right to be there.

If people are here by following the right regulations then they will also be in compliance in getting their foods at Tiger brands and other places,” said Nkosi.

Nkosi related complaints from Soweto residents about expired food, such as fake bread that felt like rubber and fake headache pills that caused people to be admitted to hospital.

If government had done the right thing in providing jobs, then we would not be in this condition,” she said.

Acting provincial manager of the SA Human Rights Commission, Matthew du Plessis pointed 0ut to Nkosi that local merchants had also been reported as selling fake goods. He asked her if SASTA denounced the looting and violence:

Your submission today was a bit more about immigration challenges than expired foods. We want to know if you denounce the violence and looting.”

The looting was not done by business (SASTA) people,” said Nkosi.

Panel member and senior legal officer at the Human Rights Commission Princess Magopane told Nkosi that the Constitution enshrined the human rights of foreign nationals.

We do not keep refugees in camps in South Africa because we want them to live freely among people.”

The retail store, Tiger Brands, were also invited to the inquiry to provide clarity on the distribution and regulation of consumer goods in their stores.

According to Mary Morifi, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for Tiger Brands, there are 11-million people in South Africa who are food insecure. And as a result, this impacts on their nutrition.

With this in mind, Tiger brands removes food off their shelves three months before their Best Before date so that they can be given to beneficiary organisation and avoid wastage.

I am informed that the foods are handed out within 24 hours after being removed from shelves,” said Morifi.

However, Tiger Brands also faces challenges with shop owners who counterfeit their products. And although they have agents on the ground who check for fake or expired goods, regulations in South Africa are still lacking.

There is no law in South Africa that allows anyone to remove a product which has passed its expiry date,” said Kamal Haril, Chief Strategy Officer of Tiger Brands.

According to Haril, to remove a fake or expired product off the shelf, one has to purchase it, then take it to the lab for testing, after which you can approach the Department of Health to test whether the product is still suitable for human consumption, after which a criminal case can be pursued.

However, this can be a fruitless endeavour. The test may take up to three weeks, and the matter may be taken to court two months later.

After all this time, the product may no longer exist on the shelf,” said Haril.

Furthermore, Haril contends that criminal charges have not been successful to prevent further infringement of the law, as often shop owners are found with R100,000 worth of fake products but get a R4,000 fine. DM

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