For years Cofimvaba informal traders have been asking the Intsika Yethu Local Municipality to renovate their business premises. Now the municipality is doing just that, but the traders fear they will not be able to pay the new rents.
About 15 traders have been using the Transido business centre in Cofimvaba for decades.
Transido was built by the Transkei government in 1985 to develop informal trading around Cofimvaba. Intsika Yethu Local Municipality spokesperson Zuko Tshangana said after the Transkei government, ownership of the business centre had passed to the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC), which had donated the structures to the local municipality in 2012.
Tshangana said a new contract would be drawn up with traders after the renovations, but he did not know what rents would be charged. At the moment the rent is between R1,500 and R7,000 a month, depending on size. But the traders have not been paying rent since 2012.
Trader Mandaba Sobekwa, who sews school and church uniforms, said the rent started at R20 in the old days and rose to R200 between 2010 and 2012.
She said when the municipality took over in 2012 traders had stopped paying rent because the municipality had failed to maintain the premises.
"Our business died when the municipality took over. A few months after the municipality took over we had an electricity fault which we reported, but they never fixed it. We started losing business and some people left because they needed electricity. Toilets are no longer working, seats and pipes are broken. Some of the roofs were recently destroyed by strong winds and the municipality has not fixed them," she said.
Traders told GroundUp that their fear was that they might not be able to afford the rent after the renovations. They also said they had nowhere to trade while the renovations were taking place. They want the municipality to renovate one side of the centre while they use the other and then they want to move to the renovated side.
They said they had several meetings with the municipality trying to find solutions without success.
"We stopped renting because business was not going well," said trader Mngcina Ngqumenqe. "If this place had been maintained with electricity our businesses would have done well."
Ngqumenqe sells zinc sheets for rondavel roofing.
ECDC regional manager Rufus Nayo confirmed that the building was handed over to the local municipality with an agreement that it be used for local economic development programmes.
Tshangana said the municipality had started with the renovations and promised that the process would be quick. But when GroundUp visited the centre, electricity had only been partly installed and traders said the workers had left a few days after the June elections.