Our hero this week is hawker Jeffrey Neakonde who reported crooked cops to the police watchdog body, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), after his goods were unlawfully confiscated.
It’s not easy being an informal trader. The competition is stiff, the margins are slim, and the hint of cold or wet weather can ruin the day’s trading. But in South Africa, where roughly a quarter of the population are unemployed, street hawkers also have to worry about the police confiscating their goods if they are unwilling to pay a bribe.
Jeffrey Neakonde is our “hero of the week” for not taking the easy way out by paying a bribe and standing up to the police. The successful fruit and vegetable hawker is well-known in the Johannesburg central business district for looking after his customers and providing quality food.
Over the past few years he has had his goods confiscated several times by authorities in efforts to extort bribes, despite possessing the correct documents to trade in the city. But Neakonde refuses to give a bribe and says that he shouldn’t have to pay for what he rightfully earns.
Neakonde, who has to be at the fruit markets by 5am every morning, is no stranger to hard work and after the police confiscated his goods, they were shocked to find out that he had reported the matter to the IPID.
More hawkers speak out
This is not the first time that hawkers have taken a firm stand against the rampant corruption within the metro police.
In April, just a few days after Corruption Watch released its damning report revealing the extent of corruption within the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD), Ivory Park hawker Thato Mokobe* filmed metro cops assaulting local resident Andries Ndlovu.
The incident was covered extensively by various media countrywide, including Corruption Watch.
Corruption Watch met the hawker who shot the video and learned that street vendors in Umnotho Street, where Ndlovu was attacked, were constantly being harassed by metro cops. Street vendors who earn less than R2 500 a month were being forced to pay bribes amounting to R50 every time the police raided the area.
Ivory Park hawkers told Corruption Watch that not only are they victims of police intimidation, but that their goods were often confiscated. And when they went to retrieve their confiscated items, there were no records of them at the police station.
Mokobe’s footage led to the arrest of six metro cops who were seen assaulting Ndlovu in the video.
Another hawker Kuben Govender, from Durban, was so fed up with corrupt metro police that he helped police catch a crooked cop and two police impersonators after they robbed him of R1 000 worth of cigarettes and solicited a further R400 from him.
The suspects included a Durban city centre warrant officer; a police reservist who had worked in the police force during the 2010 World Cup, but had now been kicked out of the force; and a civilian.
Corruption Watch heard that vendors were often robbed by the police at the Phoenix Plaza, where Govender operated.
Over the last six months Corruption Watch has received hundreds of reports of abuse of power by the JMPD, while noting that harassment and extortion of street hawkers by cops has become a growing trend.
Fruit seller Neakonde is aware that the cops he blew the whistle on could come back to harass him, but with the help of Corruption Watch and the South African National Traders Retail Alliance, he is confident that he can tackle any confrontation comes his way.
Corruption Watch salutes active citizens like Neakonde who are not afraid to fight for what is right.
Corruption Watch’s video on the plight of Johannesburg street hawkers was screened on Soweto TV this week – watch the clip here.
* Names have been changed to protect the individuals' identities.