The illegal hawkers lining the R71 provincial road that passes through Tzaneen have increased in numbers since they were last removed a month ago by the Greater Tzaneen Municipality’s traffic department.

This time however, it would appear as though one of the biggest mobile network providers on the continent, MTN, has “sponsored” some of these stalls with building materials.

Motorists noted with concern that some of the stalls were covered by large yellow MTN-branded tarps. To the motorists it appeared as though these were canvas tents supplied to the hawkers as part of some clever marketing tactic. “I would like to know from MTN what’s going on here because these stands are illegal and I truly hope that they are not involved in supplying those tarps to them,” said one anonymous caller.

Bulletin sent an inquiry to MTN’s marketing department to try and gain some clarity on the matter. We wanted an official response from the cellular giant on whether these tarps were sponsored to the fruit sellers, or whether it could have been reappropriated by the hawkers from another site, unbeknownst to MTN.

In response to our inquiry, Unathi Majokweni, Specialist Communications and PR for MTN, confirmed that these branded stall covers formed part of the group’s “informal traders upliftment” initiative. In an email response to our inquiry Majokweni said that MTN supports informal traders but does not condone illegal activities.

“Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. We can confirm that MTN provides branded shelter (stall-covers) to informal traders as part of our informal traders upliftment initiative, this includes tuck shop branding, provision of MoMo kiosks and umbrella stalls to informal traders that are located at prescribed/permitted areas only,” the statement read. “MTN does not promote illegal trading, however, it should be noted that some of these informal traders have multiple stalls (or branches) and they do tend to use MTN branded shelter in other stalls that they own. We encourage you to liaise with and report informal trading to local authorities as it is the responsibility of a municipality/ provincial government to ensure that traders comply with local trading policies.”

In the meantime, it has been reported to us that at least four of these hawkers permanently live next to the R71 in makeshift shelters which double as stalls during the day. There are 28 of these stalls lining the R71 and each of them have at least three occupants manning the stations. There are no ablution facilities for at least a kilometre in either direction.

The GTM have been active in the removing of these illegal structures, but it appears as though they may be fighting a losing battle for as long as motorists continue to stop and support these hawkers. Bulletin has in the past spotted even traffic police vehicles stopping at these illegal stalls to buy fruit. The matter is being discussed in council and it is hoped that a viable solution will soon be formulated.