There has been recent controversy around Joburg using the line ‘ A World Class African City’ in its advertising and marketing. I came across Michael Clark’s article – brief but interesting – around what it might mean to be a “world class city” and who defines the criteria. See http://futurecapetown.com/2013/08/thoughts-on-a-world-class-african-city/#.UhYAf3-0wTA
I particularly like 2 of the ideas that Clark raises – that perhaps cities should strive to accommodate shared lived realities rather than banish the poor from the cityscape; as well as his idea of embracing informality. I often think how people love the quaint, the irregular, the picturesque when it is in ‘another time’ and ‘another place’. But on our doorstep I find that even when a hawker, cobbler or fruit seller keeps his or her patch immaculately clear and does not obstruct pedestrians, there are often critical mutterings about how we have become so ‘third world’. In the face of all our problems, the authorities seem to have the same skewed attitude to informal trading. I was deeply saddened when out on the West Rand a couple of months back to see boxes and boxes of hawkers’ wares, including their tables and umbrellas, being confiscated and tipped into a large Metro Police truck . Earlier in the morning I had seen their neat stands (in a disused area away from the road-side) with fruit piled in miniature pyramids in their eye-catching colour combos and single wrapped sweets in rows on their makeshift tables made of boards on bricks. These are ordinary men and women scraping an income, not threatening society in any way. And along come a small army of aggressive overweight men and women to disrupt the order, confiscate the meagre goods of this small outdoor spaza shop, and destroy a few people’s livelihood. All in the name of a ‘World Class African City’ - I don’t think so. If we became more flexible about bureaucratic regulations and encouraged the informal sector within parameters that protect health, safety and exploitation, we could encourage entrepreneurship even if at a very low-key level. I think we would end up with a far healthier society; one where more people are earning an income, however paltry, rather than either relying on state benefits or turning to crime.