By Maya Potter, Compiled by Tasmi Quazi
Maya Potter, anthropology major, interned with Asiye eTafuleni (AeT) this year, and after immersing herself in Warwick Junction, a major informal economy hub in Durban (South Africa) in which AeT is based, this was one of her colourful and perceptive reflection pieces:
“There are two Durbans—Durban by car and Durban by foot. This morning, I explore Durban on foot, as AeT tour guide Precious Dlokova and I weave our way through the Warwick market. Precious says that half a million commuters pass through this transportation junction every day, generating quite a lot of trash. We pass a woman in an orange suit sweeping up litter—she works for Durban Solid Waste (DSW). Richard Dobson told me of a DSW worker who was sweeping the Early Morning Market. He asked Richard, “Do you see that pothole filled with water?” Richard nodded.
“Do you see all that trash floating in it?”
The DSW worker said, “I am given a broom to sweep the waste but I cannot sweep that trash out of the water. As long as there is a pothole there, that trash will remain.”
Some things can only be seen and understood when one is on foot and on the ground. AeT, through their tours, helps us see expressions and hear voices we have never seen or heard before. Perhaps real change begins by paying attention to the details.
The Brook Street Market is a feast for the eyes—rack after rack of pretty patterns and happy colors. Pinafores are greatly valued and are often given as part of a Zulu bride’s labola or dowry. This product of apartheid now holds Zulu cultural significance—it is a colorful item with a history of struggle and hard work.
The vendors both sew and sell the pinafores right in the market. Many women are sitting on milk crates—their hands working furiously, their faces calm. When a vendor works from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., a good seat must make all the difference. I see a pinafore seller sweeping in and around her stall—the vendors work hard to keep their market clean.
All of a sudden, there is a huge gust of wind. Goods and waste are flying all over the place. Some tomatoes fall off a vendor’s table and roll across the pavement. He picks them up. They look bruised. Being out in the open, the vendors are exposed to sun, wind, rain, even dust. Products can be easily ruined or stolen.
For the Brook Street vendors, the market is their place to produce and to vend but for others, it is a home away from home. In the Lime and Impepho Market, the vendors are from rural areas—they gather lime and impepho, a type of incense, and bring it to Warwick to sell. I see mattresses leaned up against the concrete wall; it is too far to commute home, so the lime and impepho traders sleep in the market. Warwick is so much more than a place to buy and sell.
The informal work environment is difficult because few understand the needs of the vendors. This is what makes AeT’s work so valuable. They pay attention to the sun and the wind—details that seem too small or too trivial to some, but that matter greatly to the vendors. However above all, AeT listens. Equipped with an understanding of the challenges of the informality, AeT champions inclusive urban design to improve the livelihoods of Warwick vendors.”