Asiye eTafuleni

Group – Durban, South Africa

2008 onwards

Asiye eTafuleni is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) set up to support informal traders, and others who use public spaces for their work, by providing design and development expertise. Although street traders may have had market stalls or pitches for many years, selling a range of goods - from foodstuffs to muthi (traditional medicine), from clothing to electronics - they are often at a disadvantage because of their poor understanding of urban development norms that hold sway. This has made it difficult for them to stand up for themselves in the face of competition, to participate in consultation processes with city officials on equal terms, or - sometimes - to even be taken seriously. This NGO seeks to build capacity within the informal sector, so that the often fragile livelihoods of informal entrepreneurs can be buttressed by better knowledge.

Established in 2008, Asiye eTafuleni ('bring it to the table' in Zulu) emerged out of the ongoing involvement of officials, urbanists and activists working on the Warwick Junction Project, an informal market complex at the heart of Durban, South Africa. Co-founders Richard Dobson and Patrick Ndlovu saw that when traders were sympathetically consulted as part of the development processes taking place, they were able to positively engage and contribute to improved outcomes for all concerned. The NGO has sought to build on this experience, promoting a more responsive and inclusive context for development.

Better knowledge of the system, as well as knowledge of alternatives and a greater level of organising amongst the informal traders, were key steps to achieving a more equitable distribution of power, and fairer commercial opportunities. For Asiye eTafuleni, this has reinforced a belief in the principles of consultation and participation, and a concern to equip traders with the know-how and support they need. The NGO serves as a learning hub for entrepreneurs and researchers interested in local urban development and planning issues in relation to South Africa's informal economy. An innovative element of the organisation's profile is its street credibility, which has enabled multi-stakeholder engagement and contributed to the team's diversity: a mix of architects, social scientists, and informal traders. This mix provides a balanced and grassroots platform for any type of urban intervention.

To date, Asiye eTafuleni's main area of operation has been Warwick Junction, Durban's primary transport node, which on an average day accommodates 460,000 commuters and at least 5,000 street traders. Project work includes developing appropriate infrastructure for traders, spatial upgrading projects, and an inner city cardboard recycling project linked to tourism opportunities. The NGO has also recently been involved in evaluating responses by city officials to a proposed shopping mall - motivated by street traders whose livelihoods would be threatened by the proposed development, and who have subsequently launched a lawsuit with the assistance of the Legal Resources Centre. The case involves the street traders who work on the fringes of Warwick market, including bovine head cookers, barrow operators, and live poultry sellers, and seeks to establish their right to conduct trade in a manner that suits long established traditions and values rather than the standards associated with the formal economy.

A richly illustrated book co-authored by Richard Dobson, Working in Warwick, brings narratives of occupation-of the everyday practices of the street traders and their ways of interpreting and contributing to the city-into dialogue with urban policy and the debates around economic development.

Key Projects

Innercity Cardboard Recycling Project
Markets of Warwick Traders' Tourism Project
Infrastructual Upgrading Projects in the following areas: the herb market, the bead market and mealies market
Situational analysis of the following areas: Besters and Malandela Road, and Underberg Local Municipality
Interdisciplinary and sector networking projects with Inclusive Cities, WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising), built enviroment professionals and various other relevant professionals

References About

Richard Dobson and C. Skinner, Working in Warwick (Durban: University of KwaZulu-Natal, 2009).


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