International Migrants and Refugees in Cape Town’s Informal Economy

This report began with the recent military-style assault on informal traders, both migrant and South African, at the Cape Town railway station. While this whole operation seemed like massive overkill and certainly mystified the traders themselves (apart from costing them a day’s business and the loss of their hard-earned goods), it is not the first time that the power of the central and local state has been directed at the city’s informal economy. Indeed, as this report demonstrates, a significant number of migrant and refugee entrepreneurs throughout the city have been victims of police misconduct in the form of physical and verbal assault, arbitrary arrests and confiscation of goods without cause. Migrant entrepreneurs trying to tap the township and informal settlement markets take their lives into their hands because, they claim, they receive no police protection and the police do not arrest those who attack them. The proportion of migrant entrepreneurs (even those who do not go near the townships and informal settlements) who have been victims of crimes is extraordinarily high. Clearly, the agents of law and order on the ground are not providing even the most basic protections and, in some cases, are participants in creating an unsafe environment for business (by commission and omission).