Namibia: Rigid Regulations Thwart Informal Traders At Coast

Informal traders at Walvis Bay say rigid town planning regulations are denying them the opportunity to participate in the formal trading space.

They blame politicians for not creating an environment that accommodates 'unconventional' business concepts.

A mobile trader, who refers to himself as 'Hallelujah', has been pushing a trolley in the streets of Walvis Bay, selling sweets because he could not get his small fishing business off the ground.

"How could I ever grow if the whole system is rigid? It's a process to get a one-year fishing licence to take a small boat into the bay to catch fish. Then I have to register with the municipality to trade at the market. All these processes take ages," he says.

Hallelujah has been catching hunters' fish for over 17 years through other fishermen's licences, and would sell sweets and snacks in town on weekends.

Since the local outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic he has resorted to permanently selling snacks and sweets.

Hallelujah blames the town's leadership for not relaxing regulations.

"How different are these rules to the apartheid regime's regulations of allowing only those with a pass in a certain area. I thought the struggle was against those regulations, but now they have created new passes for those who are fighting to make a living," he says.

Garrian Groenewaldt is one of eight street photographers at Walvis Bay. He registered his business, Soul Cercise photography, a few years ago.

He says his art is limited to portraits and close-up images, which he feels hampers his professional growth.

"I cannot continue taking pictures at the lagoon or the municipality building only as if those are the only iconic sites in our town. If you go to other countries, people take pictures showing the beautiful scenery of their towns which also helps to promote the country to international markets," he says.

Groenewaldt says if politicians are serious about attracting tourists to the town they have to create an exciting environment and help entrepreneurs like him grow.

"If you go to Windhoek city centre there are meteorites and statues of historic figures. Walvis Bay does not even have a statue of a fish. I can't even ask for a small boat as street decor; you will be told you are disturbing heritage sites," he says.

Patrick Sakeus sells recharge vouchers and cookies on Walvis Bay's street corners.

He is from the Onengali village in the Ohangwena region and resorted to his current business model because his ideas were not entertained.

"I had so many ideas. One of them was to get a bicycle-hiring container in town and let people who are visiting the town cycle around, or even those who want to exercise can hire them. I was told the town planning regulations do not allow this," he says.

Sakeus says he is not the only entrepreneur who was turned down because of town planning regulations.

"Another young person I know of wanted to implement the idea of scooters at the lagoon. It was also turned down here, but Swakopmund's municipality now offers the same services to tourists. I don't know why the regulations in this town are different from other towns'," he says.

Wilfried Immanuel, Walvis Bay's mayor, who served on the council for the past five years, says he fully understands the frustration of the entrepreneurs.

"Unfortunately, to implement the ideas the entrepreneurs are proposing, involves many role players, not just politicians. They should not give up on demanding and promoting ideas that would help grow our town," Immanuel says.

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