Durban - Durban had been wrong to try to close down the Warwick Junction market and move traders into a new mall.
It stopped listening to its own people before international input in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup, a top eThekwini Municipality architect admitted on Monday to delegates attending the XXV International Union of Architects World Congress now under way in Durban.
The R400-million mall development was planned in the run-up to the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
The city manager at the time, Michael Sutcliffe, was quoted as saying the area was chaotic.
“A number of taxi ranks are all in one place and there’s illegal parking on the streets. There’s conflict between vehicles and pedestrians. It’s chaos. We are creating a better vision,” he said.
But on Monday, Jonathan Edkins, chief architect at the municipality, told delegates that chasing the traders out was just one example of how the World Cup “damaged our city”.
He was responding to the frustrated voices of traders who had told the panel debate how they had been harassed by metro police, how their produce had been confiscated and their trade had been restricted by an insistence that they get permits.
Edkins said the city had made a mistake when it had “stopped listening” to its own people before international input.
“The 2010 World Cup in a lot of ways damaged our city... and one of these areas was Warwick Junction; but we have now heard the message loud and clear,” he said.
Edkins said traditional marketplaces formed the core of many cities, and certain characteristics of trade in Africa needed to be protected. For this reason the city was moving “very clearly” into area-based management.
Speaking of the history of the struggle between the city and informal traders, he said the engagement had moved from a “very bad period” to a period of intervention and improvement, but then again into a bad period.
“It was going well until we started thinking international and not listening to local input. We need to hear their voices and bring them back to the table... from the architecture department, this is the approach we have already started taking and will continue to take.”
Zodwa MaDlamini Khumalo, a herb trader who has been operating out of Warwick Junction for 14 years, implored delegates to assist them in fighting the tendency to “wipe out” traders in favour of shopping malls and to help design a better marketplace.
“We have no water and no toilets... of all the markets in Durban this is the only one where the municipality does not clean and do waste removal,” she said through a translator.
“There is absolutely nothing that is right for us as people in the market. There is no shade; we get burnt by the sun.”
Khumalo said the women traders were supporting their families and educating their children, and all from the proceeds of their stalls.
A third-generation trader, Marnie Govender, told how the metro police had tried to move the traders out by confiscating their goods or shutting them out of the market.
“We were tortured... we were asked for our permits everywhere.
“This lasted for two to three weeks. There are 600 stalls in our market. It was wrong to just give us notice, but we fought and we stayed. And we are still there.”
She said the market needed to be uplifted and advertised. Cold rooms were also necessary for traders to store their fresh produce.
Patrick Ndlovu, a former metro police officer who had been chasing away traders since 1986, said he had hated his job because of it.
“It was traumatic for me chasing away the traders, especially old women. But there were no other job opportunities.”
When South Africa won the bid to host the 2010 World Cup, Ndlovu said he knew the informal traders would again be targeted. So he resigned and started an NGO, Asiye eTafuleni, which advised and assisted the traders.
“It is very important as architects and designers to understand the way the traders operate. We really want a design to make the place better.
“You will never go wrong if you interview the people there before you design and get their input.”