One of the things that destroyed apartheid was that more and more people stopped obeying its regulations and prohibitions. The same seems to be happening with some of the present government’s lockdown regulations.
Reporting last week on his township network, G G Alcock wrote on BizNews that “this sector doesn’t just want the lockdown to end, they have ended it”. Suburbs and cities were at level 4, but “townships and informal businesses are at level 1”.
Until 1961 it was illegal for black Africans to obtain liquor (other than sorghum beer). Neither the prohibition nor police raids and seizure of liquor stopped the growth of thousands of shebeens, and in 1982 the National Party (NP) government started issuing them with licences.
When the minibus taxi industry got going in the 1970s the government tried to curb its growth to protect the subsidised bus companies, inter alia by roadblocks, arrests, and fines. Legislation was even drafted to “phase” the taxis out. Eventually the government recognized the futility of such policies and declared that competition in public transport was a good thing.
Spaza shops, illegal until January 1989, likewise established themselves despite police harassment, as did pavement hawkers.
Shebeens, minibus taxis, and spaza shops are all examples of entrepreneurship that the NP tried, unsuccessfully, to curtail, control, or even destroy. Some of the restrictions that the minister of trade and industry, Ebrahim Patel, has recently imposed, for example on clothing and footwear, are reminiscent of those gazetted by the practitioners of apartheid. Thus in 1968 it was decreed that black African shopowners in townships in the urban areas would be allowed to open only one shop, and that they could not conduct business “for any purpose other than that of providing for the daily essential domestic requirements of the Bantu residents”.