Durban's Street Vendors Learn Foreign Languages

by Savitha C Muppala on  March 2, 2010 at 11:54 PM General Health News
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South African street vendor Zama Shinga's face tightens in concentration, carefully repeating the words spoken by her French teacher, who is asking for a discount on her wares.
 Durban's Street Vendors Learn Foreign Languages
Durban's Street Vendors Learn Foreign Languages

"Est-ce qu'il y a une réduction? Une ré-du-ction?" she says, struggling to wrap her mouth around the "u", the sentence reverberating in the prefab classroom set up at a Durban police station.

Durban, home to Africa's busiest port, will host seven World Cup matches and expects 100,000 visitors during the month-long tournament that kicks off on June 11.

To welcome the guests, the city has begun teaching street vendors foreign languages.

Over six weeks, a young woman who recently finished her French degree gives three classes a week to 20 vendors who ply their wares along Durban's beachfront, home to most of the city's top hotels.

If the pilot project goes well, the city wants to teach 500 vendors in downtown Durban.

"Informal traders are a key tourism attraction," said Vumi Mchunu, the city's coastal areas manager

"It is important for them to know other languages in order to interact with their customers clearly during the World Cup," she said.

Their efforts could also pay off over the long term.

"A lot of African people who come here understand French," said Nelsiwe Mehunu, who sells candy.

"They want to ask prices, what is this and that. We don't understand. But if we understand them, I believe we can make some money. I think we can be rich too - because we understand their language!" she said.

So far, she has mastered colours, sizes and ice cream flavours in French. With her eyes fixed on her notes, she can also get through social niceties and negotiate a price.

Beyond their practical value, the classes have a symbolic importance in a country where most of the population was denied a decent education under the white-minority apartheid regime.

Some of the students have little formal education and battle to express themselves in English, which is one of 11 official languages in South Africa.

"I have been to school until I was 12 years old, and I am in school again to learn French now. I am very happy," said 60-year-old Mankinto Ngcobo, who sells souvenirs from under her colourful Zulu hat.

The vendors take to the class enthusiastically, hoping it will help them turn the page on a weak year for tourism that saw their sales drop.

"Maybe I get 10 rands (1.30 dollars) a day. I never get even the bus fare, the bread," said Thembile Camile, who sells local crafts which she says haven't been selling well.

"Still the stuff is from last year. It has not moved," she said.

The city is trying to ensure that vendors benefit from the influx of visitors for the World Cup, which is expected to bring 400,000 foreigners to South Africa.

Three new markets are being built to house 500 stalls along the beachfront. Food vendors will also receive training in hygiene.

But the vendors will not be allowed in areas managed by football governing body FIFA, including the stadiums, where only official World Cup partners are allowed to sell their products.

Source: AFP

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