MASERU – Street vendors’ bid to force government to permit them to operate even during the hard lockdown has failed. This follows the High Court Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi’s dismissal of their application to reverse government’s ban on their operation during the national lockdown.
The vendors, along with other non-essential services, are banned from operating during the country’s hard lockdown but they argue that the ban is discriminatory, and thereby asked the court to nullify government’s decision to ban their operations.
Five vendors teamed up to launch the petition. Mareni ‘Mabathoana, Paul Kabisi, Lesole Ramole, Kotsi Koali and Teboho last month asked the High Court to nullify the ban. Their application was launched after government enforced two weeks’ hard lockdown to impose contain the spread of the virus last month.
They argue that the ban is discriminatory and unfair for the fact that the rest of citizens continue to get salaries from their workplace, particularly politicians and civil servants yet the vendors are on the other hand banned from conducting business. They also asked the court to order security services agents who are enforcing the regulations not to subject them to any form of torture as they enforce the regulations.
Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro eventually relaxed the restrictions wherein vendors are now allowed to operate but the complainants insisted on their case being heard. They argued that a court’s ruling in their favor would set precedence on how government should treat street vendors should lockdown be enforced again.
Judge Monaphathi yesterday dismissed the application but said he would avail the reasons at a later stage. He said he said to put the reasons of his judgment in writing but ruled that the complaints failed to make a case for the relief they sought.
The vendors had also asked the court to order the Ministry of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing to pay them COVID-19 relief stipends they were promised by the former Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane’s government.
In an affidavit accompanying their court application, ‘Mabathoana who had deposed to an affidavit on behalf of the rest of the applicants, contended that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted on their businesses and compounded their problems. She argued that the ban is not only discriminatory but also promotes monopoly of big retailers at their expense.
“The said announcement (lockdown) negatively discriminates against me and other street vendors because we are prevented from selling food items while the retailers are allowed to do the same. I aver that there is no legitimate factual basis to differentiate street vendors’ trade from that of big retailers which are allowed to operate and are said to be offering/selling essential services similar to the ones we are selling.
“I aver that on account of the fact that individuals sell limited items, the chances of the super spread of COVID-19 are highly limited. The big retailers attract large numbers of people on account of the several items they sell,” her court papers read in part.
‘Mabathoana also argued that the government decision was arbitrary in that they were not consulted before the lockdown was imposed.
“The first respondent (Majoro) never consulted any of the street vendors’ associations when he planned the lockdown. The decision unfairly affects street vendors on account of the fact that street vendors are not allowed to sell vegetables, seeds and other items. But the same ban is not extended to big retail stores,” she said.
‘Mabathana added: “I and my co-applicants are mostly living from hand to mouth and the decision to ban our trade is detrimental under the circumstances. I aver that we have no option but out of necessity to defy the announced lockdown to go and sell so that we can put food on the table for our dependents.
She continued to argue that: “We are fearful that the police and soldiers will be deployed to brutalise us as they did previously without anyone being held to account. Other vendors’ items in the form of eggs, vegetables, fruits were taken by the police. They were left helpless and the government will do nothing to ameliorate their plight. The first respondent, public servants and the employees of the other sectors are going to earn their salaries when this month ends not withstanding their stay at home but the same will not extend to street vendors.”
‘Mabathoana also blamed government for failing to combat the spread of COVID-19 saying the vendors were unfairly made to pay the price. “The government has failed to combat COVID-19 pandemic and no one is held to account and the government’s poor decision (sic) is made to affect myself and other street vendors. It is a fact known to me that no street vendor where I operate ever succumbed to COVID-19 and I never heard of my known customers to have suffered the same. This is because street vendors observe COVID-19 protocols as mandated by the World Health Organization (WHO),” she further stated.
The national lockdown is enforced as the government’s strategy to contain the spread of the novel corona virus and during the period, safe for obtaining essential goods and services, movement of people from a place of their residence to the other place is restricted. This is also implied to street vendors but they argued in the application that their ban is unreasonable.