Clem Sunter

Another day in paradise

2009-09-02 12:30

Phil Collins was singing Another Day in Paradise on East Coast Radio. I was driving to Durban airport last Saturday morning after spending the day there. How appropriate for my mood, I thought, as I hummed along with Phil.

Durban has just been ranked third among the top 10 family beach holiday destinations in the world. I took a walk down the seaside promenade the previous afternoon and watched the surfers taking perfect waves, the anglers huddled in concentration at the end of the piers, the skateboarders and mountain bikers zooming up and down a specially created circuit to one side, a gaggle of schoolchildren splashing each other in the shallow waves, ships motionless in the ocean waiting to enter the harbour and, of course, pedestrians enjoying a stroll just like me.

For the faint-hearted, there's a serious police presence but not overwhelming or sinister. Nice bars with clean loos are located at just the points where you need a beer to sustain the walk. The whole beachfront is undergoing renovation in preparation for 2010. The buildings halfway down the promenade have been removed so that you have an unrestricted view of the Point from way down the other end. You feel a sense of space that wasn't there before.

However, the reason I love Durban is that it has a unique blend of Zulu, Indian and European cultures which makes it the most entrepreneurially-driven city in South Africa. Not even Johannesburg comes close even though Johannesburg is the financial capital, as well as the centre of big business, for the country as a whole. But Johannesburg has nothing like the Warwick Triangle, through which 400 000 commuters flow on a daily basis into and out of Durban. They are served by a gigantic network of informal traders.

I remember 10 years ago walking through the triangle and doing a series of interviews with individual stall holders. One guy stood out for me because he sold a unique product - boiled cow heads - to the outgoing traffic in the evening. I asked him why he didn't create a franchise and get a headstart! His response was that he had been on the site for many years but, despite running a viable business, no bank in Durban was prepared to finance his expansion.

Well, things may change now. In a conversation with the deputy mayor, Logie Naidoo, on Friday evening at a SEDA (Small Enterprise Development Agency) dinner, I heard that city management is intent on creating an environment in which these traders will "graduate" from the informal sector to the formal sector; and that retail facilities within the Triangle are currently being upgraded to attract tourists alongside everyday pedestrians.

For me, this initiative represents the future of South Africa. Our politics may have changed but the old economic order remains firmly in place, despite affirmative action in key sectors. We still have an exclusive club with the vast majority of our population consigned to a survivalist existence outside the club's perimeter.

Maybe Durban will show us the way to a more inclusive and democratic economy. Imagine if 20 000 seasoned entrepreneurs make the transition from the informal to the formal sector and hire an extra 20 people each. The result would be 400 000 additional jobs which would be more sustainable than jobs created by public works programmes funded by taxpayers' money.

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