The informal economy continues to play a crucial role in employment and many people’s livelihoods, as a coping mechanism for marginalised populations in the developing world. In countries of the Global South, shrinking formal economies and job losses in both the public and private economies mean that the formal economy no longer provides a livelihood pathway for the majority of the population. Reducing socio-economic dilemmas has made the informal economy increasingly central to survival, and without it, access to a decent livelihood and escaping poverty cannot be achieved. However, be this as it may, the informal economy is not strongly positioned in public debates about policy on poverty and development. Accordingly, in many developing countries, at both central and local governments, informal economic activities are increasingly loathed, stifled and even criminalised. These tiers of government have evolved certain by-laws, regulations and frameworks that discourage or create difficulty for the legal and moral recognition of the informal economy. Nonetheless, this has not deterred informal traders who have found innovative ways to negotiate space and insert themselves in exclusive economies, albeit under unfavourable conditions of marginality, state brutality and inequality.
The starting point of this study is the recognition that economies, predominantly formal or informal, are plural. Following from this, the study argues that ‘informality’ and ‘formality’ are two sides of the same coin, only separated by the degree of the either form. Using an actor-centred approach, grounded in the qualitative or interpretative research paradigm, utilised in soliciting both primary and secondary qualitative data, the study sought to understand the worldview of those involved in the informal economy within the confines of the Tshwane Metropolitan City, and the dynamics of interaction among themselves and with Metro officials as enforcers of the by-laws. In broad terms, the study set out to enquire into street traders’ constructions of notions of social justice, within the context of informal traders’ understanding of state laws and by-laws. The study employed an extended fieldwork approach where brief periods of ethnography were employed to understand these actors on their own terms. Emphasis was made on the meanings and obligations held by the various actors in this locale as they went about creating livelihoods for themselves.
The findings have revealed a complex web of interactions among different actors with conflicting interests, typified by inherent tensions in the pursuit of self- and wider societal interests. These actors were engaged in complex relations of survival where negotiations of space, rights and survival were paramount; and where these actors were connected and dependent on each other through reciprocal relationships. Those who succeed in negotiating and navigating this highly contested environment are able to make a decent livelihood and stave off potential arrests and confiscation of their wares by officials.
Dissertation (MSocSci)--University of Pretoria, 2018.