The Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) of South Africa has recently produced a short film, Streets at Stake, in collaboration with Sleeping Giant Films, and launched a research report, ‘The End of the Street?’ Informal Traders’ Experiences of Rights and Regulations in Inner City Johannesburg. Both the film and report explore the realities of informal trade in the inner city of Johannesburg.
In 2013, informal traders in the city were evicted on a mass scale as part of Operation Clean Sweep. The City of Johannesburg explained the operation as an effort to rid the inner city of crime and grime. Streets at Stake documents the eviction of traders, the subsequent refusal to allow them to resume their trade, and the litigation which followed. The traders eventually experienced victory in the Constitutional Court, which lambasted the operation as “an act of humiliation”, and allowed traders to return to their places of business.
SERI received a grant from the Bertha Foundation Media Impact Opportunity Fund, which allowed them to make this short film. Watch the video here:
The City continues in its attempts to curtail informal trade in Johannesburg. It is trying to achieve through legal avenues what it couldn’t through brute force during Clean Sweep. ‘The End of the Street?’ investigates the regulation of informal trade in the inner city, as well as traders’ daily experiences of making a living there, in order to explore the impact of this prohibition and restriction of trade.
The report argues that the regulation of informal trade is restrictive, non-consultative, orientated towards enforcement rather than development, and that it is instrumental in producing illegality. By foregrounding the experiences of traders, it exposes major gaps in informal trading policy in the city and in the way in which informality has been imagined more broadly. The report argues that the challenges of informal trade can be addressed if the City improves the way in which it is regulated. There are, however, also deeper problems with the ways in which informality is imagined and approached by the City, and the state more generally.
Dennis Webster, Researcher, Socio-Economic Rights Institute
Follow Dennis on Twitter @DEWebster