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Informalities of urban space, street trading and policy in the city of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

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As cities in the global South undergo rapid informalisation, their respective governments have utilised technocratic and modernist “spatial rationalities” to regulate this urban process. Evidently, through use of plans, grids, by-laws, modernist discourses, Bulawayo’s city authorities in Zimbabwe have in past years construed the existence of informality in its city centre as discordant with the aesthetics of a “world class” city. This negative characterisation of Bulawayo’s informal sector is extended to its participants who are normatively described as an “undesirable” and “chaotic” group to be controlled and sometimes excluded from the cityscape. However, this thesis argues that Bulawayo’s deindustrialisation and Zimbabwe’s economic malaise has necessitated the informalisation of urban space which is epitomised by a pronounced presence of street traders on the cityscape. Indeed, Bulawayo’s economic downturn has given some street traders the impetus and legitimacy to violate urban laws and encroach on urban public spaces, remaking them into viable resources to cope with the effects of unemployment. Consequently, this thesis examines how the informalisation of Bulawayo’s urban space has shaped and reconfigured the “everyday” and “lived” interactions between city authorities and street traders in managing informality. It further seeks to examine how the informalisation of urban space in the context of Bulawayo’s deindustrialisation impacts the way its citizens and city officials understand and reimagine Bulawayo’ urbanity, work, and spatiality. Using responses extracted from 41 participants comprising street traders, city officials and representatives of civic organizations, the theoretical works of Foucault (1994), Lefebvre (1974), and Gramsci (1971), and historical analysis, the thesis shows that in the context of regulating informality, interactions between city authorities and street traders have been characterised by contestations, negotiations and sometimes collaborations. On one hand, the Bulawayo’s city authorities operating under a politically violent “state” have responded to urban informality with brute force (raids and evictions). On the other hand, Bulawayo’s street traders have resisted these evictions through picketing, litigations, and sit-ins at the mayor’s office to challenge policies that preclude them from realising their right to the city. They have further demonstrated through campaigns and workshops how street trading is crucial to generating household income, promoting work independence and developing a localised solidarity economy. In negotiating this contested terrain, the thesis demonstrates that Bulawayo’s city authorities have sometimes shown sympathy towards the plight of street traders, embraced them as part of the city’s urban reality. Further, they recognise the important role street trading plays in sustaining urban livelihood, tackling unemployment and contributing to the city fiscus. As such, Bulawayo’s city authorities have revised some of the exclusionary urban planning policies that prevented an integration of informal trade into the mainstream local economy. Additionally, while raids and evictions have been regarded as important methods of managing street trading, Bulawayo city authorities have sought to use other strategies that are less violent and intimidating. This thesis utilises the works of Foucault (1994) on “governmentality” Lefebvre (1974) on “the production of space”, and Gramsci on “hegemony and consent” (1971) to argue that in situations where raids have proven to be violent, city authorities have utilised vending bays, discourses of “cleanliness” visually projected on street signs and billboards to control street traders’ illegal conduct and contain informality from a distance. The thesis also argues that the transformation of Bulawayo from being an industrial city to what Mlambo (2017) refers to as a vendor city has also meant that people’s perceptions of Bulawayo as a place of work have radically changed. Accordingly, the deindustrialization of Bulawayo coupled with the entrenchment of informality has seen the participants in this study rework their social identities and challenge the meaning of work and urban citizenship. While participants in this study argued that street trading fostered work independence, they noted that income and social insecurity associated with informal work makes them susceptible to poverty. Some participants described street trading as an activity characterised by multiple forms of exclusions such as raids, evictions, and shortages of vending spaces that impede their right to the city. This thesis also demonstrates that theories of urbanity still require reworking in the context of the global South city to encompass the experiences of crisis and deindustrialisation outside of the rural/urban dyad and the linearity of development that assumes only modernity through industrialisation.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.