Contesting Violent Displacement: The case of Warwick Market in Durban, South Africa by Brij Maharaj


While violence traditionally refers to the use of physical force to cause harm to others, in recent years this definition has been widened to include structural forces such as deprivation, poverty, inequality and forced displacement. This paper analyses strategies by Durban Municipality to demolish the century-old Early Morning Market (EMM) and replace it with a mall. More specifically, the following forms of violence will be illustrated: physical violence and brutality; racial stigmatization; threats to livelihoods; and fear of forced removal and relocation. The Municipality presented the mall project as being in the public interest, however, the demolition of the EMM would have destroyed the livelihoods of thousands, who are directly and indirectly dependent on it for their survival, in an environment with high levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment. The proposed spatial reconfiguration of Warwick Junction, with the mall project and demolition of the EMM, was a neoliberal strategy to favour capital/big business, at the expense of poor traders and consumers in the area. Traders inside and outside the EMM were able to organize, mobilise, resist and challenge their violent dispossession by the alliance between the local state and corporate mall developer, and together with legal recourse, were ultimately successful.

Key words: market, displacement, livelihoods, resistance, Durban



Violence is spreading into many aspects of daily life and has become increasingly common in cities of the global South, including South Africa. This endemic or every-day violence has been escalating due to many complex processes linked to the economic, social, political and institutional aspects of urban life as the poor struggle for survival (Winton, 2004; Moncada, 2013; Salahub, et al., 2018). There is an increasing scholarly interest in urban violence in the global South in the 21st century. Research themes include fear in cities (De Souza, 2005); inequality, unemployment and crime (Hojman, 2004; Winton, 2004); urban insecurity (Moser, 2004); gang violence (Baird, 2012); vigilantism and politics of urban violence (Lebas, 2013; Moncada, 2013; 2017); and criminal influence on local governance (Abello-Colak and Guarneros-Meza, 2014).

In recent years, the definition of violence has been extended from the intentional use of physical force or power resulting in injury or harm, to include structural forces, such as deprivation, poverty, inequality, forced displacement and psychological harm (Weinstein, 2013; Freeman and Burgos, 2016). There is a continuum from direct, physical violence (visible) to structural violence that is embedded over time, often made invisible by neoliberal hegemonies and justified by the state as being in the moral and material interests of society (Farmer, 1996; Springer, 2010; Freeman and Burgos, 2016). The neoliberal turn has resulted in the violent restructuring of urban spaces, fragmentation of communities and groups, characterised by protests, displacements, and dislocations that may lead to further rounds of urban violence (Springer, 2008). Structural violence relates to the poverty and inequality stemming from political and economic systems, particularly neoliberalism (Farmer, 2004; Springer, 2011). Extreme forms of urban inequality act as a form of structural violence (Galtung, 1969; Farmer, 2004) and can result in exclusion, deprivation or displacement. Violence from above, e.g. state-supported displacement is legitimized, while violence from below – social protests, mass demonstrations – is criminalised (Springer 2008), as illustrated in this paper.


In the 21st century, there has been increased scholarly focus on development-induced displacement (see Drydyk, 2007; Mehta, 2009; Bennett and McDowell, 2012; Monteith and Lwasa, 2017), and the predictable consequences: landlessness, loss of livelihoods, vulnerability, and destitution. Forced displacement was a major form of structural violence against black people under apartheid in South Africa (Platzy and Walker, 1985), and is re-emerging in the democratic era, against the background of a neoliberal development trajectory (Bond, 2002; Desai, 2002; Maharaj, Desai and Bond, 2010). This paper examines violence associated with the Durban (eThekwini) Municipality’s (2009-2011) plan to demolish the century-old Early Morning Market (EMM) in the historic Warwick Avenue area and replace it with a mall. More specifically, the paper analyses how an alliance of politicians (Mayor and Deputy Mayor), bureaucrats (City Manager, Head of eThekwini Business Support and Markets) and capital (private developer) supported the mall project and attempted to displace the traders. It also illustrates how a coalition of traders, unions and civic organisations successfully mobilised against the mall project and the destruction of the EMM. The paper reveals how the proposed mall project is an example of violence shaped by neoliberalism.

The paper is divided into five sections. The first section explains the methodological approach. The second section presents a background to the EMM in Warwick Avenue. This is followed by a discussion of the mall project. In the fourth section, the different forms of violence experienced by the traders are analysed: threats to livelihoods; fears of forced removals and relocations; violence and brutality; and racial stigmatisation. The nature of protest and resistance is the focus of the final section.


My participation in this project was as an activist scholar or public intellectual, committed to advocating for progressive transformation and social justice (Calhoun, 2008; Lugar, 2016). In order to promote progressive social change, and influence public agendas, activist scholars participate in the struggles and campaigns of local communities, rather than providing “technical expertise to those already in power … Activist scholarship … forces confrontation between different perspectives, explanations, and statements of fact” (Calhoun, 2008: xxv).

A key issue was building trust with the affected community (Plunk and Gehlert, 2018). I was not a passive observer, but participated actively in the different campaigns, protests, and marches; helped to draft memorandums and media statements; and presented affidavits for legal action. Consequently, the Warwick market community began to trust me. Hence, the data were “collected in the dual roles of researcher and participant, where one is involved in the process of social change while simultaneously describing the world of the participants through their eyes” (Calderón, 2004:81).

The data collected for this study emerged from various participatory activities: public meetings, workshops, consultations with legal advisors, media statements, memoranda, and various documentary information. The Durban Municipality refused to give me access to information in their records about the mall project because of my public advocacy role on behalf of disadvantaged traders. However, this problem was overcome because I had access to the court records, which is in the public domain. There were several court interdicts in which the Durban Municipality was the respondent, and the Executive had to file their documents, which included minutes of meetings, correspondence and other related information pertaining to the mall project.

The Early Morning Market in Warwick Avenue

Markets have formed an important part of cities throughout history, often acting as magnets of commercial activity. In an era of rapid urbanization, globalization and homogeneity, markets are important markers of local identities, and produce ‘some of the most vibrant, complex, and most locally identifiable spaces experienced in urban Africa’ (Gantner, 2009: 2). The EMM in Warwick Avenue in Durban is no exception. Durban, located on the east coast, is the third largest city in South Africa and is well known for its beaches and multi-cultural diversity. This is also manifested in the ‘many informal markets around the city that provide economic opportunities for the poor … and for entrepreneurs to develop their creativity’ (UN-Habitat, 2015:20).

Figure 1 Warwick Avenue Triangle[1]

Warwick IDPR 42_1_03 Maharaj-4

The EMM has an ‘umbilical’ connection with Indian indentured labourers (recruited by the British Colonial authorities to labour on the sugar cane farms, see Desai and Vahed, 2010), some of whom turned to market gardening after completing their contracts. There were about 2,000 market gardeners selling their fresh produce in the vicinity of Warwick Avenue by 1885, and they moved to the present location in the EMM in January 1934 (Vahed, 1999). It was suitably located for low-income residents and workers, being contiguous to public transport facilities and the market (Maharaj, 1999), and was bounded by the Western Freeway, Berea Road and Warwick Avenue (figure 1).


Screen Shot 2019-05-25 at 8.42.53 AM

There are several, smaller, intertwined markets and the EMM, which was called the ‘mother market’, served as the anchor (Table 1). This was a ‘maternal reminder that it has history and that it has gathered around it a significant number of viable informal income-generating activities’ (Dobson, 2011:1). It is evident from Table 1 that foodstuff (fresh produce, cooked meals), traditional herbs and medicines, fashion accessories and music, were the main products sold in the different markets in the Warwick Junction.


Table 1 Markets in the Warwick Triangle

[1] Some street names have changed, hence this is an older map of the city.

Market Main type of products sold
Early Morning Market Fresh produce, spices, fresh flowers, poultry
Bovine Head Meat Market Bovine head meat, platted food, fresh produce
Herb Market Traditional herbs and medicines
Brook Street Fresh fruits, traditional attire, music, fashion and accessories, pinafores, arts and craft, Mixed/general products, hardware, hair saloon
Impepho and Lime Markets Impepho, mineral lime balls
Bead Market Beaded products
Berea Station Fresh produce, traditional attire, church garments

Fast food, music, fashion and accessories

Music Bridge Music, fashion and accessories, hardware
Mealie Cooks Mielies/maize

Source: Adapted from Conway (2015, p. 14)

There are an estimated 4,000 traders operating in the Warwick area. Daily over 450.000 commuters and 38,000 vehicles pass through the area, including 300 buses and 1,550 mini bus taxi daily departures (Dobson and Skinner, 2009:2). There are other income-earning opportunities for the poor in the Warwick Avenue Triangle (WAT), including barrow operators (who move goods around the city), water suppliers, paraffin suppliers, storage assistants, metal recyclers, etc. It has been estimated that the total annual turnover in the Warwick Junction exceeds R2bn (Conley, 2015).

After the historic democratic elections, in November 1995 the Physical Environment Service Unit of the Durban municipality announced an impressive area-based management plan to upgrade the WAT “with a particular focus on the needs of the urban poor”.[1] The plans for the redevelopment of the WAT had emerged from consultation with representatives from 21 organisations, which led to the establishment of the highly successful Inner City eThekwini Regeneration and Urban Management Programme (iTrump), which received a prestigious award from the International Union of Architects in April 2008 (Dobson and Skinner, 2009).

The WAT was clearly a thriving hub for the poor. Therefore, the decision of the eThekwini municipality to support the mall project which would lead to the demolition of the EMM, without any consultation with those who were likely to be displaced, was irrational and a shock to formal and informal traders, civil society organisations and associated interest groups. This was attributed to Durban’s plans for Fifa 2010. As preparations for this megaevent began in earnest, tensions between traders in Warwick and the municipal authorities increased as the progressive policies of the first democratic decade were reversed (Skinner 2008).

 The Mall Project

The mall project was initiated by the developers, Warwick Mall (Pty) Limited, which was established in 2006 and had a lease agreement with the South African Rail Commuter Corporation for the development of a mall and taxi rank on the bridge over the railway lines south of Berea Station (figure 1). Between 2006 and 2008 there was significant progress and plans for this project were approved. However, because of the high costs and structural challenges, the construction of the mall over the railway bridge at the Berea Station did not commence (Rosenberg, 2009). The mall developers subsequently approached the eThekwini Municipality for a similar project at the Early Morning Market site, with a view to establishing a public-private partnership. More specifically, on 19 August 2008, Warwick Mall Inc. made an ‘unsolicited bid … in respect of development rights over City-owned [property] within the Warwick Precinct’ to the Head of the Strategic Projects Unit and 2010 Programme, eThekwini Municipality. In what can only be interpreted as extraordinary haste, (in terms of the pace at which such projects are normally approved), the following reply came two days later:

This Unit recognises the potential benefit of an integrated development which inter alia: (i) further integrates the Warwick precinct with the core CBD …; (ii) rationalises public transport movements through the bridging of the rail reserve thereby addressing current conflict, and (iii) incorporates public transport ranking facilities.[2]

A damning indictment was the acknowledgement that ‘a detailed costing in respect of the Council’s contribution to the development has not been undertaken’[3] (and even by 27th April 2009, there was still no indication of the costs that would be borne from the public purse for the project).[4]

There were repeated suggestions that the mall should be completed before Fifa 2010 commenced in June (Naran, 2009). According to the Deputy Mayor, central government funding was available for the ‘Warwick infrastructure upgrade, but it is hardly likely there will be any money after 2010 World Cup’ (Naran, 2009:1). However, the Early Morning Market Support Group contended that building the Warwick mall was not a Fifa deadline requirement to host 2010 soccer matches in Durban, and this should not be used as an excuse to fast track the demolition of the EMM (Naran, 2009).

Initially, the municipality argued that the developer must ‘accommodate existing informal traders and Early Morning market traders within the development. In this regard, the City will provide the numbers to be accommodated and in the instance where such numbers exceed 150, shall fund the full cost of such additional facilities’.[5] However, in the final agreement this clause was excluded because the municipality contended that trading at the EMM was declining. Hence, before deciding on a permanent location for displaced traders, the municipality intended to study ‘fresh produce distribution within the Inner City to resolve precisely what the demand is for a Central Fresh Produce Market’.[6]

In 2009 there were 220,048 informal traders in Durban, the majority of whom operated without permits (Edge, 2011:8); about 4,000 were located in the WAT (Skinner, 2009b). The formal traders with permits were operating in the EMM, and they had a symbiotic relationship with the informal traders, who often sourced their goods from the market. In the post-apartheid era, Durban adopted a more progressive approach, recognising the economic importance of the informal sector in creating jobs (Skinner, 2008; Dobson and Skinner, 2009). The City Manager, however, argued that there was a ‘culture of non-payment’ (of rents) at the EMM, and that the traders had argued that the market was no longer a sustainable proposition because of the high crime levels in the area; competition from informal traders; the poor quality of facilities at the market; and lack of parking.[7] So rather than address the problems raised by the traders, the Municipality’s solution was to try to raze the EMM and replace it with a mall.

More specifically, the iTrump project was linked to the development of an innovative, progressive policy approach which supported the informal sector. This included: recognising the income earning opportunities provided in the informal sector for the urban poor; providing financial and business skills training; ongoing consultations between the municipal officials and traders; regular refuse removal, and improved and more visible security (in which traders volunteered to participate); upgrading of infrastructure and facilities, such as toilets and ablution facilities (Dobson and Skinner, 2009). Against this background, the decision to raze the EMM and replace it with a mall was an aberration, however, there were suggestions that political connections were driving the mall project. According to Skinner (2009:108), Warwick Mall (Pty) Limited was part of the Isolenu consortium that “specializes in township town centre redevelopment. This is a black economic empowerment consortium that appears to be politically well connected”. As tensions escalated, traders were subjected to various forms of violence.

Violence associated with the Mall Project

The main, immediately affected groups were the traders inside and outside the EMM, who were not consulted about the mall project. There were four forms of violence associated with the mall project discussed in this section: loss of livelihoods; forced removal and relocation; physical violence and brutality; and racial stigmatisation.

  1. Loss of Livelihoods

Proposals for the construction of the mall had serious consequences for the livelihoods of 683 traders, as well 4,000 other formal and informal traders and street vendors in the Warwick precinct, many of whom sourced their products from the EMM.[8] A common concern raised by traders about the mall project was loss of income and livelihoods (Table 2). It was evident that the market offered ‘an important outlet for the traders, employment for unskilled labour and a central source for street traders to draw their stock from’ (KZN, 2009:2). Traders in the Warwick Junction supported their immediate and extended families, and multiple dependents (Dobson and Skinner, 2009). Church leaders criticised the Municipal authorities for threatening the livelihoods of poor traders and the ‘trampling of their rights and dignity’.[9] The concern about livelihoods was especially serious given the high unemployment rate in Durban, which was estimated to be 22.4 percent in 2009 (Edge, 2011:8).

Research conducted by the School of Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal suggested that each trader had between 6 and 25 dependents, and it was estimated that ‘between 70,000-100,000 household members, many of them already extremely vulnerable, could be negatively impacted upon’ (Skinner, 2009a:1). Hence, the argument from a social justice perspective was that closing the market in which the vulnerable traders had earned their livelihoods for decades was unfair because of a lack of consultation and deliberation about the consequences for the poor.[10]

Table 2 Typical Profile of those Adversely Affected by the Mall Project

I am the Vice-chairman of the Early Morning Market Traders Association.   I am so grateful to those Indian traders who taught me how to conduct business in this market …I vowed to my fellow traders that the mandate they have given me which is to fight for this market and its heritage will go on and the market to see another 100 years. (male, Vice-Chairman) I started trading at the Early Morning Market stalls number 365 and 366 at a tender age of 16 years. I have been trading at this market for the past 59 years. This Market has taken care of my family for decades. I am now old and grey but this market keeps me alive because of my interaction with other traders and customers. (male, fruit seller)
I started business in the Early Morning Market at an early age, despite not being educated formally the Early morning Market served as my school of learning. Today I am so happy that after all these years of trading to see at my age we Indian and African traders trading side by side in happiness. My wish is for this market to be preserved and upgraded for future generations to come. (female, vegetable seller)


I am adult female chicken seller, trading at the Early Morning Market. I reside at Willowglen near Umkomaas on the south coast I have been trading at the market for over 27 years. I am unmarried and I support 4 children from my income of approximately R1000.00 per month from selling chickens. In addition to my immediate family, I am also responsible for the support of my extended family. (female, chicken seller)


I am an adult female residing in Lindelani, an informal settlement near Durban. I am a food cooker carrying out my trade in the vicinity of the Warwick Junction. I prepare food at Warwick Junction … and my primary customers are the people working at the Early Morning Market … The idea of closing the Early Morning Market is so painful, because I am the breadwinner at home and I don’t know where I will go. (female, food preparer) I am an adult male, age 69, residing in Chatsworth. I am a live poultry seller carrying out my trade in the vicinity of the Warwick Junction. I live with my son, who works with me at the market, my wife, my daughter-in-law, my grandson, my sister and her two children. I employ two ladies that help me with my trade, and we generally earn R150 per day net profit. My father had the same stall that I operate today. I don’t know what I will do at this age if the market closes. (male, poultry seller)

The profiles of a cross-section of traders and those who were dependent on the EMM for their livelihoods, cutting across race and gender, were obtained from affidavits presented in the various court cases and a brochure entitled “The Journey of the Early Morning Market” to celebrate the centenary of the market in 2010.[1] An analysis of the historical, social and economic profiles of those who would be adversely affected by the mall project succinctly revealed life histories and lived experiences that were inextricably connected with the EMM and the Warwick Junction for decades (Table 2). Several traders were illiterate and had no alternate source of income. Many were second or third generation traders and some were now being assisted by their children at the market. It was estimated that the establishment of the mall would result in the costs of basic foodstuff increasing astronomically. For example, the cost of fruit and vegetables in the area would increase by more than 100 percent – beyond the affordability of the poor.[2] The anxiety about loss of livelihoods was inextricably linked to the threats of forced removal and relocation.

  1. Fears of Forced Removal and Relocation

There was no objection to the upgrading of services and infrastructure in the Warwick area[3] but there was opposition to the proposed forced removal and relocation of traders, which was reminiscent of the apartheid era. The outcome would always be the same – the banishment of poor, black people to even greater levels of impoverishment. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) contended that the closure of the EMM would result in the ‘liquidation of informal trade in the Warwick precinct [which was] a neo-liberal assault against the poor people … led by agents of big business who masquerade as public servants”.[4] The Social Movements Indaba (KZN) referred to the displacement of traders and the mall project as a ‘classic land-grab’ that was evocative of the apartheid era.[5] The traders and vendors were instructed to vacate and relocate by 31 May 2009 (subsequently extended to 31 July 2009), to a temporary facility to be developed on the Materials Management site, at the corner of Warwick Avenue and Alice Street (figure 1), a location far from foot traffic that would suffocate their enterprises.[6] As the traders began to challenge the decision to demolish the EMM, the local state responded brutally, with physical violence, in an attempt to intimidate them into submission.

iii) Physical Violence and Brutality

It was clear from the tone of an e-mail exchange between the Municipal Manager and the Strategic Projects Units and 2010 Programme Head, dated 5 May 2009, and published in the Mercury newspaper, that threats, strong arm tactics, and intimidation against the traders opposing the demolition of the EMM would be escalated:

Municipal Manager: ‘…I will indicate either they accept the relocation, or we will simply terminate the lease and will only accept into the temporary facility those who do not owe us any arrears’.

Programme Head: ‘This is what we predicted. They are going to try to use this opportunity to entrench themselves in Warwick despite the fact that they have a long history of payment arrears. I suggest you meet with them and that we immediately issue letters of termination’ (Magwaza, 2009).

Not surprisingly, this was followed by the Municipality’s Business Support and Markets Unit Head’s announcement of his intention to cancel leases and evict traders: ‘We’re now following legal processes … The first step is to serve termination notices… we need the site for development’ (Ndlovu, 2009a:3). On the night of 30 May 2009, traders staged a legal sit-in at the EMM to protest against the mall project and the demolition of the market. However, city police attacked the traders with tear gas and pepper spray, ‘saying they were carrying out the orders of the city manager’ (Comins, 2009:3).

A former Inkatha Freedom Party MP, who had joined the “sit-in” at the market (with which her late father had a historical connection), described how traders aged between 50 and 75 years old were sprayed with tear gas and faced the barrels of guns:

It is mostly women traders there. They [police] were going to the stalls and pushing out women and pulling them and assaulting people on the floor. I told the police that these were mothers and people with heart problems and they said, ‘shut up and move before we arrest you’. They pulled me by the arm and pushed me and then this one woman fell, and they were holding guns to these old women. They kicked me on my leg. My leg has swollen up (Comins, 2009:3).

A 57 year-old female trader who has worked at the EMM for 37 years, was also teargassed: ‘While trying to escape I injured my leg. I don’t know how I am going to feed my family’. Another 50 year-old female trader from Redhill, who had worked at the market for 25 years, was manhandled by the police: ‘They pulled me out of my stall and demanded that I get out. I am a widow. I have nothing to fall back on’. However, a spokesperson for the municipal police stated that ‘minimal force’ had been used by the law enforcement officers (Ramjith, 2009:2).

There was another violent attack on the morning of 15 June 2009, the eve of the historic 1976 Soweto Uprising, when the municipal police fired rubber bullets and teargas at traders who were locked out of the market. As an eyewitness explained: ‘It happened quickly. The traders weren’t being violent. The police jumped over the boundary wall and started shooting. People were shot in the face and some in the back’ (Ndlovu, 2009b:5). A Municipal Police spokesperson claimed officers were forced to fire rubber bullets when traders attempted to enter the market without displaying their permits: ‘The traders without licences outnumbered those with permits and tried to force their way in. They were a stronger force and we were forced us to use rubber bullets’ (Ndlovu, 2009b:5). Themba Mthembu, the provincial secretary of the SACP, however, stated that the party was ‘infuriated’ that the Municipality used ‘force and brutal means on defenceless street traders … The city council has brought back the inhumane and the brutal practice of the apartheid regime and perfected it’ (Mbanjwa, 2009:2).

The Social Movements Indaba (KZN) contended that the EMM was being managed like a ‘concentration camp’:

Since 30 May 2009, the market community has lost many days of trade due to lockouts and the unprecedented occupation of the market by scores of City Police (sometimes well over 100 in number). After the lockouts, the beatings, shootings … the market is administered more like a concentration camp than a place of free trade.[7]

The Municipal authorities were quick to label those opposed to the mall project as racists. More sinisterly, there were attempts to divide the traders on a racial basis as formal traders in the EMM were largely Indian, and informal traders in surrounding markets and on the streets were black African.

  1. Racial Stigmatisation

Several academics were critical of the mall project and displacement of traders (Mercury, 3/6/2009). Stung by criticism from many of his former academic colleagues and comrades, the City Manager replied: ‘Much of the sound and fury in the media is about race, self-interest and opposition to the democratic majority’ (Sutcliffe, 2009a). He further questioned the motives and abilities of academics who were critical of the mall project: ‘I am not sure if it is race or self-interest or opposition to the democratic majority that brings these academics together, but it is certainly not a result of them practicing their craft’ (Sutcliffe, 2009b).  The City Manager (who holds a PhD. in geography from Ohio State University) was described as a “very rare white technocrat who wielded enormous political power through skilled manipulation of factions within the ruling party” (Bond, 2012:1). As one professor claimed, “to make baseless accusations about race in South Africa is to throw a metaphorical hand-grenade into a crowd” (Mercury, 15/6/09). This was especially so in Durban and the province of KwaZulu-Natal, where there have been tensions between Africans and Indians in the apartheid and post-apartheid eras (Maharaj, 2014).

According to the City Manager, large scale exploitation was taking place in the EMM (Sutcliffe, 2009b). The Mayor similarly implied that Indians were exploiting Africans in the market (Ngwane, 2009). It was, therefore, not surprising that at a meeting convened by the Durban Metro on 10 July 2009 at the International Convention Centre (ICC) to discuss the mall issue, cries of ‘Hamba khaya! Hamba uye eBombay!’ (Go home! Go to Bombay!) reverberated in the presence of senior officials. According to an academic eyewitness:

The most shocking aspect of the meeting was the racialised language being used by members representing the city management, in order to try and co-opt the house to support the development plans. Dr Sutcliffe referred to the EMM as being the Indian market on more than one occasion, attempting to create the impression that those who were fighting to keep it, were actually pro-Indian and by implication anti-African (Nadvi, 2009:3).

The Municipality subsequently distanced itself from the alleged racial slurs and denied that any councilor or officials were implicated.[8] However, according to another eyewitness and civil society activist:

many people left the ICC thinking that the main social benefit of getting rid of the market was getting rid of the Indians and that the proposed mall would provide business opportunities to long-denied Africans (In reality, it will be chain stores of multinational corporations who will take the biggest mall locations) (Ngwane, 2009:16).

The racist attacks were further confirmed by a Wikileaks report on the 17 July 2009 public meeting organised by the eThekwini municipality:

The Chairperson of the eThekwini Business and Market Committee Faso Majola said in Zulu that ‘Indians only want to protect their interests in the Warwick area and they don’t want township people moving in’. The Head of eThekwini Business Support and Markets declared that: ‘Let us take the food from the mouths of the Indians! Now is the time for Africans to be in power! We will remove them all and replace them with blacks!’[9]

A coalition of trader, civil society and non-governmental organisations coalesced to mobilise and campaign against the mall project and the demolition of the EMM.

 Protest and Resistance

Trader organisations, trade unions, civic associations, NGOs (Siyagunda, Asiye eTafuleni), religious leaders, and academic researchers, amongst others, were opposed to the mall project and destruction of the EMM. Specific organisations included the Early Morning Market Traders Association (EMMTA), Early Morning Market Support Group (EMMSG), Social Movements Indaba (KZN), COSATU, South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU), South Africa National Civic Organisation (SANCO), and the South African Communist Party (SACP). These organisations were multi-racial in representation and membership, engaged in collective mobilization against the mall project, and helped overcome ‘exaggerated’ racial divisions. The Indian and African traders were mutually inter-dependent through informal credit/loans, providing an outlet for produce, and mentorship/training for new traders). Beyond South Africa, there was also support from StreetNet International and its World Class Cities for All (WCCA) campaign.[10] Many of these organisations had submitted memoranda to the local and provincial governments emphasising grounds for opposing the mall project and presented sworn affidavits in the different legal interdicts. Several public meetings were also held, in which most of these organisations also participated.


COSATU “stood in solidarity with the traders’ struggle” (Daily News, 1/6/09), and emphasized that other formal and informal traders would also be adversely affected in adjacent areas such as the Berea Station, Brook Street, and the Herb Market, if the Mall was built. Hence, the resistance to the ‘demolition of this unique market precinct’.[11] The SACP and COSATU expressed concern about: the questionable consultation processes and the lack of transparency; the omission of the opinions of workers and the poor; the need to preserve the heritage site; ‘the failure to cater for African share ownership; the failure to cater for informal traders; and the failure to accurately measure the economic benefit of the market’ (KZN, 2009:7). Church leaders supported the struggles and challenges of the formal and informal traders in the Warwick area who were ‘trying to defend and maintain an economy that sustains families and makes fresh produce accessible to many poor people, against a proposed mega-shopping mall’.[12]

Another strategy was the legal route, to seek relief from the courts. There were several court actions initiated by the EMMTA, barrow operators and others, against the eThekwini Municipality: seeking to set aside the decision to relocate traders and cancel the mall lease; affirming the right of barrow operators to work in the EMM without personal permits; restraining the Municipality from harassing, intimidating, or otherwise interfering with traders at the market; and authorising the centenary celebrations of the EMM. Several urgent interdicts were granted against the eThekwini Municipality with costs.[13] While some of the traders from the EMMTA paid for private lawyers, the majority were supported by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), a non-profit organization in Durban. The impact of the various court applications and interdicts was two-fold. In the short term, it provided immediate relief for the traders, barrow pushers, etc., to continue with their normal operations, which the city wanted to halt and terminate. The long-term impact was to delay and disrupt the targets and timelines set by the developers and the city for the mall project, as well as the Fifa 2010 deadlines. The developers were worried about the impact of the stagnation of the mall project on their investments and profit margins.

By early June 2009, the mall development company, indicated that they were rethinking their decision to invest in the project in view of the public protests and objections: “As developers, we are very concerned. We are business people. We never expected this reaction. We can’t invest in an area in which we are not welcome” (Enslin-Payne, 2009:1). In February 2011, the developer withdrew from the mall project. This was followed by the Municipality’s decision on 11 April 2011 to withdraw its lease agreement decision with the Warwick Mall developers. On the occasion of the XXV International Union of Architects Conference in Durban in August 2014, a senior eThekwini Municipality bureaucrat, chief archi­tect at the munic­i­pal­ity, admitted that the Warwick Mall project was a mistake:

Durban had been wrong to try to close down the Warwick Junction market … It stopped listening to its own people before international input in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup … [which] in a lot of ways damaged our city… and one of these areas was Warwick Junction … It was going well [iTrump success] until we started thinking international and not listening to local input. We need to hear their voices and bring them back to the table…(Fourie, 2014:1).

However, the EMM remains vulnerable. In July 2016 the EMMTA complained that notwithstanding the municipality’s commitment to ‘refurbishment of the facilities … the market was decaying, unsafe and becoming a health hazard, but the city refused to upgrade it’ (Naidoo, 2016:1). This deliberate neglect could be viewed as an attempt to destroy the EMM by stealth.


The paper analysed the main forms of violence associated with attempts to destroy the EMM, and illustrated how poor communities mobilised to oppose, resist, challenge, stall and ultimately stop the Warwick Mall project, which was supported by politicians, bureaucrats and big business. As in many cities that have supported neoliberal strategies, the poor and marginalized were often victims of physical and structural violence (Springer, 2008; 2011; Weinstein, 2013). Contestations against neoliberal strategies significantly influenced the struggles of the poor to negotiate and access a foothold in the city, to avoid alienation to forgotten places (Springer, 2011; Routledge, 2011). Inequality and deprivation created the grounds for further forms of violence such as marginalization, fear of displacement and loss of livelihoods in poorly resourced urban areas (Pantuliano et al. 2012).

The Warwick Mall project was part of Durban’s well documented neoliberal development trajectory, with its focus on: privatisation (Narsiah, 2010; Nash, 2013);   megaprojects such as the International Convention Centre, the uShaka Marine Park and sport stadiums; and new port developments (Desai, 2015). All of these had potential negative consequences for the poor, especially fear of displacement (Desai, 2010; Maharaj, 2017). The Fifa 2010 infrastructure upgrades and the spatial reconfiguration of Warwick Junction, with the proposed mall project and plans to demolish the EMM, was a strategy to favour capital/big business at the expense of poor workers and consumers in the area – a form of ‘neoliberal gentrification’ (Miyauchi, 2014:71). There were serious contradictions evident in the juxtaposition of large-scale developments, such as the mall, and the threats to displace low income traders, a process which Harvey (2004:63) called ‘accumulation by dispossession’. Instead of providing jobs and advancing economic growth, such projects ‘have all too often left local people permanently displaced, disempowered, and destitute’ (Oliver-Smith, 2009:3).

In addition to the economic imperative, traders in the Warwick area had historical, cultural and social ties to their livelihood sites. The proposed displacement of traders from the EMM would have violently severed decades of attachment to a place that served as ‘the anchor for bonds of kinship … for livelihood and provisioning, for memory, identity and being.’ (Baviskar, 2009:61). Structural violence emanating from the state and its apparatus, such as the police, was legitimized, while protests and mass demonstrations against the mall development and displacement, were criminalized (cf. Springer, 2008). As Farmer (1996: 280) also found, there is a strong correlation between neoliberalism, structural violence, poverty and suffering, and the marginalised poor are ‘not only more likely to suffer, they are more likely to have their suffering silenced’. As protest and resistance to the mall escalated, the local state responded by “increasing atrocities and fictitious claims of … benefitting the affected” (Patkar, 2009: xiv). Similar to experiences reported in Rio de Janeiro, attempts to displace the EMM traders took the form of a “combination of threats, promises, disinformation, and the intentional generation of insecurity that together constitute a form of psychological terror” (Freeman and Burgos, 2016:549). The EMM traders were also subjected to ‘displacement pressure’ (Marcus, 1985), which refers “to the anxieties, uncertainties, insecurities and temporalities that arise from possible displacement’ (Baetin, et al., 2016: 631).

Durban Municipality tried to drown out voices of opposition and tied this to the resurrection of old apartheid stereotypes of sharp business practices and sowing racial divisions between traders, but non-racial solidarity was thriving at the EMM, a bane to those who demonstrated a callous disregard for the needs of the poor. In the face of determined resistance, rather than want to listen to other voices, the city used its own propaganda machine and resources to intensify its campaign of vilification and self-validation. The perpetuation of social inequities and justifications of this type of violence in the democratic era is unfathomable and is reminiscent of the apartheid era in South Africa, making a mockery of Durban’s 2030 vision – to be Africa’s most caring city.


This study was conducted with financial support from the UK Government’s Department for International Development and the International Development Research Centre, Canada. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of these organisations. The helpful comments from the anonymous reviewers is gratefully acknowledged.


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[1] For more testimonies of the historical Early Morning Market traders about their feeling with regards to their eviction, see Shopping Mall vs Market, part one and two (, produced by Doung Jahangeer. Also “We came in spring carts” (, produced by Clive Read,

[2] COSATU TODAY, 30 July 2009.

[3] Letter from Social Movements Indaba (KZN) to the Honourable Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, 6 July 2009.

[4] Letter from COSATU (Kwa-Zulu Natal) to City Manager, eThekwini Municipality, 22 May 2009.

[5] Submission regarding the threatened demolition of the Durban Early Morning Market made by the Social Movements Indaba (KZN), to the Honourable Mr M Mabuyakhulu, 6 July 2009.

[6] Proposed Warwick Mall Development, eThekwini Municipality Strategic Projects Unit and 2010 Programme, 27 April 2009, Annexure A.

[7] Submission regarding the threatened demolition of the Durban Early Morning Market made by the Social Movements Indaba (KZN), to the Honourable Mr M Mabuyakhulu, 6 July 2009.

[8] Press Release: Response to Media Reports of a Racial Slur at Early Morning Market Meeting, 3 August 2009.


[10] StreetNet International is an alliance of street vendors with affiliates and representatives from over 40 countries and organisations, such as the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Ahmedabad, India; the Self-Employed Women’s Union (SEWU) in Durban, South Africa; Women’s World Banking in New York, and the International Coalition of Women and Credit in New York; and Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising (WIEGO). (

[11] COSATU TODAY, 30 July 2009

[12] KZN Church Leaders’ Group, Excerpt from joint Advent Message, ‘Laying an axe to the roots’, 22 December 2009 (, accessed 15 October 2014).

[13] Lefa la LRC Durban launch: Speech by Andrea Gabriel SC, 12 August 2011, pp.3-4.


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