Feature Article: The Licensing Bill – creating another shakedown opportunity

My garden service provider will now need to apply for a licence...

Joseph (name changed), our ‘gardener’, escaped the south eastern Zimbabwe killing fields all those years ago. He was destitute when my brother took him in but he quickly learned all the basic skills of gardening. He even attended courses on flower arranging. 

Joseph supplies services (maintains our garden, cleans the pool, undertakes various other household maintenance jobs and washes our cars) twice a week. He is now a South African citizen after having navigated his way through the endless red tape and the myriad under-the-counter payments that were demanded. His wife joined him in Johannesburg and is employed full time as a nanny and maid. Joseph and his wife are frugal and hard working.

He saved and invested in a bakkie to supplement his income. He provides further services such as garden refuse or small furniture removals, and often transports goods back to Zimbabwe. That first bakkie was stolen and he never saw it again.  Undaunted, he acquired another.

During his day-to-day activities, Joseph is frequently shaken down by officials who see him as a ready ATM for their personal benefit.  The cops stop him regularly and exact spot fines. Once they even relieved him of his mobile phone. 

At the Greenside garden refuse centre he is asked to cough up cash.  Once, in a rage, I accompanied him and let the staff know that if this persisted I would call the police. When they again demanded he pay, I contacted the Jo’burg municipality garden refuse manager who proceeded to justify the payments!  His rationale was that since Joseph was in effect a garden services contractor and earned an income from this, he, therefore, should pay towards the running costs of the centre. I pointed out that this refuse was from my property and that, as a ratepayer, I had already paid.

To get to his family near Plumtree in Zimbabwe, Joseph prefers to travel via Botswana because the bribes at the border posts there are less than at Beit Bridge. On one occasion he was accompanied by a well dressed, black-suited man driving a spanking new BMW all the way from Beit Bridge to our house in Johannesburg to exact the R1,600 payment. When I demanded to know who, why and what, Joseph begged me just to pay up and shut up... he was clearly under more serious threat.

Recently, he had to have his bakkie licence renewed. This required him to obtain a roadworthy certificate which cost him R1,700 under the counter to ‘facilitate’.

Joseph never complains or gets angry about these things.  For him it is his life, the cards he was dealt.  He knows that complaining will get him nowhere and he also knows that if he does complain he will be marked for more severe treatment. Against the odds, his entrepreneurial and self learned skills have assured him (and his family back home) of a living income. His enterprise has not cost either the South African or the Zimbabwean states anything; neither he nor his family is dependent on state handouts.

As a law abiding person, he will no doubt now jump through whatever hoops confront him to register with the Johannesburg Municipality as a service provider and obtain his licence. No doubt reams of red tape will be presented to him and in order to cut through this, he will need to pay somewhat more than the published R50.  And then, apart from the metro police, the rogues at the licensing department, the border posts and the refuse centre, he will be shaken down by any other city official as they demand to inspect his licence to trade; his licence to exist.

He readily admits that, for the moment, it is worse back in Zimbabwe.

We should be grateful that this licence is not (yet) like a driver’s licence, a ‘card’ that has to be renewed at R228 per pop, the bulk of which revenue provides a Schaik family enterprise with untold billions in regular income.

Watch this space... I am sure BEE tech companies are lining up already...

Sad really...

Author: Tim Bester is a concerned citizen. This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author. The views expressed in the article are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation.

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