International Migration Research Centre

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Balsillie School of International Affairs


  • The informal sector is the big story in African cities. To respond effectively, data collection and monitoring tools need dramatic improvement.
  • Informal trading largely happens outside official city planning. This absence of recognition may be unconscious but is not benign.
  • Ethnic networking and business positioning are of crucial importance for migrant-run small businesses.
  • Those working in the informal sector in South Africa generally operate under hostile conditions.
  • Volumes of trade and duties paid by cross-border traders show that this sector is significant to SADC governments.
  • There is a policy contradiction between the government’s promotion of business tourism and the increasingly hostile attitude towards migrant entrepreneurs.
  • Xenophobia can’t be ignored in debates around the way forward for informal entrepreneurship in Southern Africa.
  • There is a need to look at how to assist South African traders in ways that are not discriminatory, unlawful and do not ignore the interests of wider parties.
  • Zimbabwe’s informal economy is the country’s major employer. Also, the movement of remittances between South Africa and Zimbabwe is a large industry.
  • There is an undercurrent of globalization in Maputo’s markets, with used clothing from the Global North sold by Indian traders to Mozambican market traders.
  • Africa has the poorest and least educated of the overseas Chinese diaspora. Chinese traders have succeeded with small businesses in Africa where local firms have failed.