The Municipal Institute of Learning (MILE) in partnership with the eThekwini Municipality’s Business Support and Market Unit hosted an Informal Economy Learning Exchange on 02 December 2014. The objectives of which were to provide an arena for engagement on informal economy policy matters amongst policy developers and practitioners. A further objective was to explore the context and environment of informal trade in South Africa, to exchange perspectives on various options towards growing and supporting informal trading in a city environment and to explore areas of collaboration among various key role-players and stakeholders in Informal Economic Growth and Development.

The Learning Exchange provided participant’s, from Msunduzi Municipality and the Gauteng Province Department of Economic Development (GPDED) the platform to share and learn using eThekwini Municipality as a case study.

In his opening address the Deputy Head of Business Support and Market Unit Mr Thulani Nzama, stated that the learning exchange aims to explore the township economy, township interventions as well as initiatives put forth like the Neighbourhood Development Grant (NDG) in growing the informal sector.

The Learning Exchange involved sharing of perspectives from the three participating groups, namely; eThekwini Municipality, Msunduzi Municipality and Gauteng Province Department of Economic Development (GPDED). What emanated from this sharing and facilitated discussion session was the importance of consultation with role players, the importance of the negotiation of plans before implementation and by-in from stakeholders. According to Mr Nzama, before the year 2002 there were unstructured informal traders and now the paradigm has shifted to include a structured formal way of managing traders. A further point of notice was the fact that informal trade was increasing and the Municipality recognised the impact traders had on the economy and as a result of this economic growth, legislation, such as the Small Business Act, was prepared to facilitate this process.

With a formalised establishment of informal traders came many challenges and GPDED Director of Policy, Ms Barbara Ziyane, highlighted that some of the challenges they experience are issues of negotiation with informal traders. A further challenge identified was managing conflict between informal traders, issues of law enforcement and most importantly the lack of understanding between Municipalities.

Key initiatives from the respective participating groups were identified and the GPDED emphasised rolling out The Gauteng Community Revitalisation Strategy which aims to influence Township Development and Informal Trade in townships. A further initiative that GPDED is looking to introduce is Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and Injured On Duty (IOD) for informal traders. An initiative that Msunduzi Municipality intends on implementing is introducing and involving informal traders as Shareholders.

A key lesson learnt during this Learning Exchange was the fact traders are different and their thinking is different therefore what Province and respective Municipality’s suggest for them may not be what the informal traders want. From this point and the robust discussions that ensued, it became evident that a bigger platform is required to bridge the gap that exists within the informal sector. An International Learning Exchange is envisaged for the next financial year to move this agenda forward productively.

Click here to access presentations from the event.