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Hurdles to trade? South Africa’s immigration policy and informal sector cross-border traders in the SADC

4. What goods are traded and where are they bought and sold?

These small entrepreneurs carry a wide variety of goods. The kind of goods traded depends on demand in various countries, and traders appear to be sensitive to changing trends and opportunities. The goods traded reflect many of those recorded in formal regional trade statistics (where part, if not most, of this trade is also recorded). It also reflects South Africa’s export and manufacturing promotion sectors. Goods taken by these entrepreneurs out of South Africa to other SADC countries include:

  • new clothes and shoes


  • second-hand clothes and shoes


  • electronics (TV’s, hi-fi’s, CD players; videos; radios, etc.)


  • household appliances (stoves; fridges; toasters, etc.)


  • household goods (pots, plates, cutlery, etc.)


  • bedding (blankets, duvets, sheets, etc.)


  • furniture (particularly mattresses and plastic tables and chairs)


  • cosmetics


  • car parts


  • bicycles


  • machinery


  • processed foods (rice, oil, sugar, tinned foods)


  • meat, chicken, eggs and milk (particularly to Mozambique)


  • vegetables and fruit (particularly to Mozambique where much of the fruit and vegetables in Maputo’s markets is brought by these entrepreneurs), and


  • indoor and outdoor plants.
Goods brought into South Africa often target particular markets and include goods not available in South Africa:

  • curios and handicrafts


  • wire to make wire goods


  • crochet work


  • traditional dresses


  • capulanas


  • fish and shellfish


  • nuts (particularly cashews), and


  • vegetables


4.1 Patterns of movement

The research suggests that patterns of movement across the borders vary widely. It seems that the majority of traders who come to South Africa only to buy goods cross the border at least once a week, but many travel as often as two to three times a week. A significant proportion of traders who only shop in South Africa travel two to three times per month. Traders who come to South Africa with goods to sell have more erratic patterns of movement as they are dependent on the length of permit issued at the border and how long it takes them to sell their goods. It seems the majority cross the border at least once a month—others every two to three months.

4.2 Volumes of goods carried

The volumes of goods carried each journey vary widely as the trade encompasses people whose business is transporting lorry loads of vegetables and fruit worth R10,000 to R20,000 (sometimes 2-3 times a week) to people who carry bags of chips and cold drinks to sell at the border valued from R200-300. The value of goods carried by individual interviewees in the studies forming the basis of this paper fell within the range of R1,000-5,000 each journey. While it is difficult to know the accuracy of the figures, respondents indicated that the average profit on each journey ranged from 15-40%.

4.3 Purchase and selling markets

In South Africa goods for sale are usually bought in formal sector retail and wholesale outlets where VAT is paid on goods bought (and rarely reclaimed on leaving the country). Fruits, vegetables and plants are bought from farms and nurseries in the border farming areas. It is unclear whether VAT is paid on these goods, but it appears that this trade provides a market for agricultural surpluses and less than premium quality fruits and vegetables. Goods taken out of South Africa are sold in markets, on the street, to formal sector retail shops and restaurants, as well as to individuals. Goods taken for sale from other countries are bought in the informal and formal sectors or are produced by the sellers.

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