Durban’s Early Morning Market: what would Yunus do?

It looks like the demolition of 20090420_WarwickJunction_EditedDurban’s historic Early Morning Market, home to thousands of informal traders, is inevitable. The city powers have bulldozed this through, ignoring the environmental specialists; heritage specialists; development specialists; academics and not least the traders themeselves. This is to make way for a new shopping mall with all the economic blandness that it entails, converting the thousands of micro entrepreneurs into at best a few hundered wage earners, with all profits going into ‘Big Retail’.

I find it sad as this place pulsates with energy and while it is indeed chaotic and lawless, it has incredible potential to emerge (with good planning and management) as a cenre for micro-business and local trade, whilst retaining the heritage and unique atmosphere of the space.

What is ironic (and which makes it sadder still) is that none other than Muhammad Yunus is currently in the country, sharing in the successes of investing in the poor with his microfinancing methods of Grameen Bank.

I suggested to an activist organisation opposing this development that they should make contact with him and get him to opine on the issue. I have no doubt on which side he would come down on.

What would Yunus do?

Here is an interview by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, where he is due to speak.

Tony Lankester asks: where is South Africa’s Muhammad Yunus?

The text of a petition to the city council is pasted below:

A Petition to the eThekwini Municipality Calling for a Review of Current Plans for Warwick Junction in Durban, South Africa.

We call on the eThekwini Municipality to fundamentally reconsider plans to build a shopping mall in Durban’s central commuter node – the Warwick Junction.

The site for the mall is the Early Morning Market – an 84 year old building that houses nearly 800 fresh produce traders. Fresh produce has been traded on this site since 1880 making it a critical part of city heritage. On a busy day there are up to 8000 street and market vendors in broader precinct. The current proposals not only threaten the livelihoods of Early Morning Market traders, but will seriously compromise the livelihoods of all informal traders in the area.

eThekwini Municipality, in its previous interactions with traders in the Junction, has displayed a unique combination of social solidarity and creativity. In 1997 the City Council established the Warwick Junction Urban Renewal Project – an area based management initiative tasked with tackling urban management and design challenges. This project has been identified by, among others UN Habitat, as an international best practice of street trader management and support.

Falsely driven by the 2010 World Cup deadlines, the Municipality have not consulted traders but presented them with a fait accompli. In addition the City has violated a number of legislative and procedural requirements. No environmental impact assessment has been conducted for this site and they have not been granted a heritage permit to
demolish this listed building. Street and market traders who stand to lose the most have not been incorporated in the share ownership.

The Warwick Avenue area of the inner city is undoubtedly in need of investment and ongoing improvements in urban management. We call on the eThekwini Municipality, to build on the consultative practices that have characterized council – trader relations in the last 10 years. Alternative plans should recognize the contribution of public-space trading and markets to the City. Not only do these livelihoods support large households in poorer parts of the city but also informal trade frequently provide goods affordable prices to poorer commuters.

Support the Early Morning Market traders!


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