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April 26, 2015 at 9:00 AM

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Walking Through Warwick: The Power of Public Space for the Informal Economy

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Bead Market Recycled telephone wire baskets

words and photos by Brittany Morris; additional photos from Markets of Warwick and iTRUMP

Meet Nonhlanhla Zuma. Nonhlanhla is a traditional medicine trader in Warwick Junction, the busiest transport node and trading hub in Durban, South Africa. Her trading days in Warwick began in 1982 during years of harassment when she would run from the police and watch her goods being removed. Amenities were not provided to traders and she worked on an exposed street pavement where her goods faced constant threat of being damaged or stolen. Now, she has moved her business to a kiosk that is complete with water, lighting and a security facilities to lock her kiosk up at night. Nonhlanhla is one of approximately 8,000 traders who come to Warwick every day to trade informally, offering a range of traditional African herbs and medicine, fresh produce, goods ranging from soap to music to spoons, beadwork, live poultry and traditional cuisine.

A Walk Through Warwick

Walking through Warwick is a kaleidoscope of colours and a symphony for the senses. The myriad of kiosks and markets, and once-derelict-now-vibrant bridges and overpasses offers a glimpse into street traders’ lives and the significant role they play in city life. The creative use of public space to establish an informal trading area accommodating the traders’ needs is apparent all around you as your feet hit the pavement. With 460,000 people and 38,000 vehicles passing through daily, Warwick is at the confluence of Durban’s primary public transportation and trading hub. Let’s take a walk.

Bovine market

Bovine Head Market. Bovine (cow) head meat is a Zulu delicacy. The women in the photo are preparing the meat and dumplings (steamed bread). Traditionally only men were allowed to prepare the meat, but now women are the predominant traders in this market and have ‘take away’ while the men sit at the tables. When I was eating my meat and dumplings (which I found quite tasty) the bovine heads were dropped off at the market – fresh at its finest.

Early Morning Market

Early Morning Market. A remnant from the past, the ‘Mother Market’ of Warwick is over 100 years old. 670 stalls and more than 2000 traders selling fresh produce, spices, flowers and live poultry make up the largest market in Warwick.

Brook street Market

Brook Street Market. A bird’s eye view of this colourful and diverse market shows pinafore traders and others selling traditional Zulu hats, clothes, uniforms and household items underneath a sheltered roof.

Brook Street Market Pinafores

Muthi city shot

Muthi (herb and traditional medicine) Market. With approximately 700 traders Warwick’s muthi market is one of the largest in South Africa. Customers approach the herb traders and traditional healers with their illness or ailment (anything from a stomach-ache to a broken heart) who then diagnose and prescribe their medicine. Herb grinders (pictured here) are hired to grind the herbs for consuming. Once an abandoned overpass, facilities were built for the healers and traders and now the muthi market thrives and is connected by a pedestrian pass to the Music Bridge Market and Early Morning Market.

Clay seller

Clay market

Clay market

Bead Market Recycled telephone wire baskets

Bead Market

Bead Market. Women come from coastal regions on Friday to sell their beautifully designed handmade bead creations and crafts. An estimated 6 out of 10 street traders in Durban and other South African cities are women. They’re often involved in less profitable trade such as produce, and often have specific accommodations such as child care facilities.

Victoria Street Market. A pink and purple building resembling a Maharaja’s palace, this market holds historic significance. The original traders were Indian indentured labourers who traded along Victoria Street between 1860 and 1910. Many of the market traders here are 3rd or 4th generation descendants of the original Victoria Street traders and now have title rights to their shops. 

Victoria Street Market. A pink and purple building resembling a Maharaja’s palace, this market holds historic significance. The original traders were Indian indentured labourers who traded along Victoria Street between 1860 and 1910. Many of the market traders here are 3rd or 4th generation descendants of the original Victoria Street traders and now have title rights to their shops.

Urban Renewal

Warwick’s past is steeped in racial discrimination, exclusive policies, and neglect. The area had the reputation as dilapidated and crime-ridden, and due to years of apartheid planning Warwick was segregated racially and divided politically and economically until the early 1990s. Discriminatory legislation and policies, and violent mass evictions made life very difficult for informal street traders. Following the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994, in an effort to transform a poorly designed Warwick into a safer and more inclusive space for street traders’, the Warwick Junction Urban Renewal Project was initiated by the City. For over a decade local officials, street traders and membership-based trader organizations collaborated and negotiated on the Project’s redesign of the area. The Project’s inclusive approach adopted an area-based management and local inter-departmental operating structure, where participation of all stakeholders and consultations occurred on a number of levels. Redesigning infrastructural components of the market area dramatically improved the trading conditions. Following a highly consultative process, priority was placed on increasing pedestrian routes, widening walkways, and easing congestion of primary trading hubs. The trading area was paved, shelter and locked storage facilities increased, trader kiosks with water and electricity were constructed, and new spaces were developed for pinafore and bead traders, and a clay market.

Abandoned overpass that is now the Muthi Market

Locked storage facilities

“Unlike typical market halls the movement of people passing is channelled through curved walkways at several levels, offering different views of the busy and ever-changing scene.” – Professor Keith Hart

The infrastructural changes and repurposing of empty space supported the traders’ needs, and created healthier, less congested, and safer public spaces. The participatory processes and innovative operating structure included in the urban renewal of Warwick were central to the Project’s success of revitalising Warwick as a vibrant area of inclusive space for street traders and the informal sector on the hinge of Durban’s inner-city.

Warwick’s revitalisation has led to economic development including community-based tourism opportunities, and continues to contribute to the local economy and provide employment. Informal trade turnover in Warwick Junction is estimated to be R1 billion annually. There are very few examples in South Africa and internationally where street traders have been acknowledged for their contributions to cities or included in urban plans and development projects.

“Warwick Junction has provided exhilarating proof of how poor people, in sensitive collaboration with urban planners, can enliven a city centre, generate employment for themselves and expand services for the population at large.” – Professor Keith Hart

Traders, their organisations and allies continue to collaborate and advocate for inclusive public spaces and street traders’ right to the city. Asiye eTafuleni is a non-profit organisation who works with Durban’s informal workers operating from the city’s public spaces. AeT advocates inclusive urban planning and design, and serves as a learning hub for those interested in integrating the informal economy into urban design. Through consultative and participative processes AeT has led various projects and campaigns within Durban to develop informal workers’ working environments and opportunities, such as the Inner-city Cardboard Recycling Project and Markets of Warwick Tour Project. Asiye eTafuleni means ‘bring it to the table” in isiZulu, and they are living up to their name – engaging with the public and stakeholders to make inclusive space for Durban’s informal traders in an urban environment that recognizes the informal economy’s contribution to city life and public space, as well as the rights of informal workers.

Although Warwick’s street traders still face challenges and the benefits of the informal trading sector are often ignored , the success of the Warwick Junction Project is a testament to how including street traders in urban plans supports sustainable livelihoods, addresses poverty and unemployment challenges, and creates democratic public spaces that are safer, more inclusive and contribute to city vitality and overall urban connectivity.

For more about the informal economy, read Professor Keith Hart’s paper here.

Mother Africa

A mural of Nomkhubulwane the Zulu goddess of rain, nature and fertility – a ‘Mother Earth’ figure- watching over the Markets of Warwick.

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