The South African Informal City seminar is organised in collaboration with the Johannesburg Development Agency, SA Cities Network, Neighbourhood Development Programme (National Treasury), the National Research Foundation and the South African Planning Institute.

The goal is to set up a platform for discourse around informality and sustainable city development, and to further cooperation, information sharing and positive action between decision makers, practitioners, academics and civil society involved in this field.

The one-day programme covers four themes:


The first session on ‘Place’ will be an engagement on the nature and roles of informal settlements, general lessons and policy reflections. The debate will include some interesting insights into what role informal settlements and property markets play; what works or doesn’t work about them, and for whom; what our formal systems (public, private, development) could do to effectively engage in terms of solution seeking; what some future directions/possibilities are; what are emerging research/policy/action questions, and for whom.


  • Sarah Charlton, University of the Witwatersrand



 In South African cities the majority of commuters are served by a relatively unregulated transit system that includes walking and catching a minibus taxi. There is little infrastructure to support these informal transit options, and there is sometimes conflict between informal transit operators and formalised services like bus and commuter rail operations; and often tension between informal operators and private car users.

There is a need to ask questions about how best to make space and provide infrastructure for pedestrians and other non-motorised transport modes in our cities. Tanya Zack will discuss her research about the trolley-pushers who are a key part of the waste recycling industry in Johannesburg; and Andrew Wheeldon, from Benbikes, will share his experience of promoting cycling as a mode of transport in Cape Town.

This seminar also presents an opportunity to think about South African cities in the future where movement systems are more sustainable and integrated. Richard Dobson from ‘Working for Warwick’ will explain how this strategic transit hub in Durban has included informal sectors of the economy through participative development and operating strategies. Finally, Thabisho Molelekwa, spokesperson for the SA National Taxi Association, will share the taxi industry’s experience of shifting from informal and unregulated operational models to more formal transport services like the Rea Vaya bus concession in Johannesburg and the Santaco airline that is operating a service from Johannesburg to the Eastern Cape.

Each presenter will discuss the opportunities and challenges presented by informal movement systems, and share experiences and lessons about how to take advantage of opportunities and confront problems in this space.


  • Melinda Silverman, University of the Witwatersrand



 A cursory survey of South African Township suggests that these are rapidly changing places not only in size and character but with emerging new opportunities despite the odds. Unlike the image of bed-room communities of the past, some of these townships are beginning to express themselves as significant bastions of culture, development and growth. These changes are bound to impact on their relationship to the “formal City” as we know it. The prospects for advancement are therefore real.

The demand for access to new products and services is going to require innovative response from both public and private sector. Finding strategies to retain spending power and promotion of local business opportunities is central to this open dialogue at the informal city exhibition.

The demand for improved access to transport networks, telecommunication, and basic services such as energy, water and electricity will require new innovations innovative responses from the public sector. Some of the opportunities cited for private sector range from financial services, home upgrading and repairs and a range of lifestyle services.
Panel members will be requested to assist in exploring these emerging opportunities and possible constraints. The following questions are proposed to trigger and guide the debate:

  • What are the characteristics of current township economic activities?
  • What are possible opportunities going forward?
  • What are the current challenges to these opportunities?
  • What recommendations can be made to both public and private sector?
  • How can these be best communicated?


  • Nellie Lester, SA Cities Network



‘Engagement’ speaks of interaction and relationships that involve collaboration and a sharing of power and control over a project. The hierarchy of engagement spans: being imposed upon – being ignored – consultation – participation – joint decision making – community driven initiatives. It is common cause that development works better when communities are effectively engaged from the outset and, while this may be acknowledged in theory and even written into policy, meaningful engagement rarely happens in practice.

  • Why is this the case?
  • What can be done about it?
  • Are there any cases of engagement in informal urban environments from which we might draw lessons for best practice?


  • Steve Topham, National Upgrading Support Programme