A letter sent out on 3 January by Liza van Coppenhagen, the organiser of the Hermanus Country Market, to inform her traders and the public that the market would be closing permanently, with immediate effect, led to such public outcry that various stakeholders are now doing all they can to prevent this from happening.

Strict Covid-19 protocols were in place at Saturday’s market, with many waiting patiently in line as only a limited number of people were permitted to enter the venue.
PHOTOS: Hedda Mittner

After a meeting on 5 January, chaired by the Municipal Manager and attended by amongst others the Mayor, members of the Mayoral Committee and representatives of the Hermanus Country Market, a statement was released which said: “The Overstrand Municipality values the significance of the market toward creating jobs, ensuring the livelihoods of traders, its contribution to the economy and tourism of the region.”

Although the municipality confirmed that “The market structures have been identified as non-compliant with the national building regulations, which the municipality is obliged to enforce”, it went on to say that “the importance of the market was agreed to by all and the way forward was mapped. To give effect to these discussions, further deliberations will be had with all affected parties to find an amicable solution to ensure the continued operation of the Hermanus Country Market.”

Following this meeting, a group of traders took matters into their own hands and announced on Friday that the market would be open on Saturday. “This is absolutely a humanitarian decision and 100% in line with the Government gazetted guidelines,” the group said in a message that was widely circulated on social media. “A lot has been done by all involved in the last couple of days to get to this point. Our priority is now to get trading in a safe manner so our traders can make a living again. There is a lot that needs to be done to secure this market for years to come, but getting income into our traders’ pockets is now the priority.”

Among the group of concerned local residents and traders who are championing the cause of the Hermanus Country Market are (back) Natalie Munro, Bernice Baumgarten, Tourism Manager Frieda Lloyd, Carole Dods and Mike Bayer; (front) Anthony van Hoogstraten, Peter Hodgskin, Cobus Stander and Elaine Bayer.

Enthusiastic patrons who arrived in droves at the market on Saturday to support the traders had to comply with strict Covid-19 protocols and some had to stand in line before being allowed into the venue. Only 50 traders were permitted to set up their stalls and members of the group not only kept a register and checked patrons’ temperatures on arrival, but also kept count of the number of people inside the venue in order to ensure that only a limited number entered.

Another message posted after the market thanked everyone “who made today possible. Without the help and support of the Hermanus community at large there would be no market. There may be many hills to climb in the future, but nothing seems daunting with a passionate community cheering us on and supporting us. We endeavour to be the best and safest market experience in South Africa now, and for many years to come.”

In her letter of 3 January, which was also published in last week’s edition of The Village NEWS, Liza set out the reasons why she’d come to the conclusion that the market was “no longer sustainable”. The insurmountable obstacles she had to face included the initial hard lockdown, when the market was unable to trade and therefore generated no income between March and August, while its costs in respect of rental, insurance etc. remained constant.

Even when the market was permitted to resume trade under lockdown Level 2 regulations, Liza said the reduction in trade, mostly due to the absence of tourists and ‘swallows’, resulted in the market’s average turnover being reduced by almost 70%. Putting protocols in place to ensure that the market was Covid-compliant also came at an additional cost that the market could ill afford. “The stark reality is that I am just not able to sustain the costs and absorb the loss any longer, especially with Covid looming over us for the foreseeable future,” said Liza.

There were, however, other issues besides Covid-19 that led to Liza’s decision to close the market. Among them are the constant pressures from the municipality regarding the fact that the structures on the market are non-compliant with building regulations and would need an estimated R400 000 to upgrade. Although Liza had submitted architectural plans and an engineer’s report last year, as requested by the municipality, as well as recommendations by a local contractor for upgrading the structures – all at her own cost – she said she had received little feedback from the municipality, and no clarity on the way forward.

Added to that is the uncertainty of tenure and repeated requests from the Hermanus Sports Club (HSC), which was developed on municipal land, to move the market to another location, in order to make way for a parking lot. The portion of the land where the market is located, is sub-leased by the HSC to the market for a monthly rental of R5 500, with an increase to R6 000 effective from 1 January 2021. A request by Liza in June last year for a 5-year lease was denied and only a 1-year lease was given on the grounds that the HSC wished the market to move to the area alongside Bosko Church, in terms of the Site Development Plan agreed with the municipality.

Discussions and negotiations between the various stakeholders will continue this week in an attempt to secure the future of the Hermanus Country Market. The chair of the Hermanus Ratepayers Association, Brian Wridgway, speaks for many when he says: “For a very long time the market has been one of our main attractions, catering to both locals and visitors from far-flung destinations, while enabling local traders to make a living. In many respects the market has epitomised what local community-based tourism should look like.”

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