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Informal Trading & Joburg: Part 2

We continue our look at the City of Johannesburg’s by-laws on informal trading. In this post, we look at section 6 of the by-laws, relating to the leasing and allocation of stands. 

Should a person wish to engage in business as an informal trader, he/she must apply to the City for an allocation of a stand. Thereafter, he/she must enter into a lease agreement with the City. A token is issued to the trader as proof of his/her right to trade, and must always have this on hand to be furnished to officials.

This arrangement goes against the very grain of informal trading, and attempts to impose a formal structure on an inherently informal business. The very nature of informal trading is its fluidity, and its ability to allow people to earn an income without the formality of setting up a business. Otherwise, traders may as well lease a shop from a propertied landlord and partake in the formal economy.

The arrangement is also too demanding a requirement for many informal traders, who largely lack the resources to scrutinise the fairness of a lease agreement, or have the know-how to deal with the City of Johannesburg in obtaining a stand allocation permit.

It is also impractical – informal traders range from someone selling hangers at a traffic intersection, to lemonade on a middle-class suburban street. To expect such traders to apply for a fixed stand, and thereafter be bound by a lease agreement, is ludicrous.

It is further impractical to expect a city that is already bogged down by maladministration to now enforce and conclude lease agreements with hundreds of informal traders.

It may be argued, perhaps, that this lease and allocation of stands issue is one to try control urban space. This is important, but it should be done in a way that is more participatory and self-regulatory. It cannot – and doesn’t work – by the law mandating a system which is too cumbersome and which many traders do not even know about. The result is a system which is disruptive of the economic livelihoods of informal traders, effectively undermining opportunities for the urban poor to lift themselves out of poverty.

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This article originally appeared at Urban Joburg.