Trading markets for malls

Among the shouts and smells of the early morning market in eThekwini’s bustling Warwick Triangle are the ghosts of struggles between marginalised communities and power.

These appear to be echoing again as market and informal traders attempt to oppose the municipality’s plans to replace the 99-year-old building with a shopping mall.

Vinesh Singh, spokesperson for the 700 market traders, said the municipality did not consult them before making an executive committee decision to develop a mall on the site. ”The first we heard of this was at a meeting on January 16, which [eThekwini municipal manager Mike] Sutcliffe told us was an ‘awareness’ meeting about the development and that there would be workshops and things to follow. But we didn’t see any plans and found out about the mall being built on the market site from the newspapers.”

Sutcliffe denied that there had not been proper consultation: ”We have presented the proposals and engaged with them, inviting them to make whatever submissions they like.” But the traders say they are being consulted on what the municipality is regarding as a fait accompli — their removal to another site, rather than on proposals for the future of the market itself.

Aside from the market traders who will be affected there are surrounding informal traders who believe they will soon not have a space from which to sell their wares and derive an income. It is conservatively estimated that about 4 000 jobs — including market traders, informal traders, barrow operators who transport produce around the area and traditional medicine gatherers — will be affected.

Mzwandile Mavula, chairperson of the African Chambers of Hawkers and Informal Business (Achib), said: ”There are over 1 000 informal traders working in that area who will be affected. The plans that were shown to us make space for only 150 traders to work around the mall. What will happen to the rest of us?”

The early-morning market is in the Warwick Triangle transport nexus, which, according to police figures, sees more than 400 000 commuters travelling through it every day. Informal traders have written to the municipality expressing concern that the planned mall will affect the pedestrian andconsumer patterns in the area and, consequently, their income.

They have also raised concerns about how a chain supermarket in the mall will affect their own sales. It is a worry for the market traders too: ”If a chain store comes in, we can’t compete with those prices. The city wants to feed the sardines to the sharks,” said trader Million Phehlukwayo.

Caroline Skinner, of the international NGO Women in Informal Employment Globalising and Organising (Wiego), which has been researching the informal economy in Durban for the past 10 years, said that since 2004 there has been a policy shift within the city away from a people-centred approach to the informal sector and towards a more unilateral one.

”These traders are supporting large extended families and although individual incomes are very low, profits from these activities are going into poorer parts of the city, which is in stark contrast to formal retailers who will trade in the mall,” said Skinner.

She said that in light of projected job losses this year it is startling that more is not being done to encourage this informal trade. ”Stats SA labour-force survey stats show that about 8% of our labour force is working informally in retail and a few years back it was estimated that there was R1-billion worth of turn-over in Warwick annually.”

Architect Richard Dobson, who, with Skinner, will soon publish a book on the Warwick Triangle area, says the mall appears to be part of the city’s efforts to ”sterilise” the area in time for the 2010 World Cup. ”Essentially, the mall is about prescribing what the city should look like. It’s less about allowing it to develop through the participation of its citizens, who impart their own flavour and history to it.”

Which, ironically, is what the city fathers and white citizenry were trying to do when the market was initially conceived as a street facility for post-indentured Indian labourers on August 1 1890 before moving to its current site in 1934.

According to Dr Goolam Vahed, in his paper A Public Health Nuisance: The Victoria Street Early Morning Market, 1910-1934, published in the SA Historical Journal, the market was considered by whites to be ”a ‘health hazard’, as antithetical to a clean and ‘beautiful’ city, it was against white notions of order and it aroused their hostility towards overcrowding and congestion and desire for smooth traffic flows”.

Vahed goes on to extrapolate on the dismissive, often contemptuous treatment of the traders by the then Durban Town Council — the sort of behaviour that 67-year-old Sam Moodley believes hasn’t changed much since the end of apartheid.

”I’ve grown up here,” he said. ”My father had a stall here and they used to call him the Orange Uncle, because his fruit was the sweetest. From what I remember from my childhood, up to now nothing has changed. The authorities still think we are dirty, uneducated and can’t make decisions for ourselves.”

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Niren Tolsi
Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist whose interests include social justice, citizen mobilisation and state violence, protest, the Constitution and Constitutional Court, football and Test cricket.

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