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Citizen and Pariah

Vanya Gastrow

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Hoping for a better life, many migrants have made the journey to South Africa and set up as informal spaza shop traders in small towns and township areas, supplying the local residents with essentials. These traders work hard, open their shops early, close late and support their relatives and kinspeople in starting new businesses. But thriving in environments afflicted by unemployment and crime is almost impossible when armed robberies are a daily reality, protection from law enforcement is not a given, and access to justice is effectively out of reach.

Engaging first-hand with small traders and the Somali communities in Khayelitsha, Kraaifontein and Philippi, Vanya Gastrow investigates the predicament of these modernday pariahs – social and political outcasts who belong neither to the elite nor the common people, and who are frequently the focus of xenophobic anger.

Tracing national-level regulatory developments in post-apartheid democratic South Africa Gastrow shines a light on how retailers have been politicised and how they have faced growing informal and formal regulatory efforts to curtail their business activities. She demonstrates how democratic and constitutional frameworks can erode in contexts of heightened nationalism, populism and economic inequality. By investigating Somali informal shopkeepers’ experiences of crime, justice and regulation in the country, the fragility of law, pluralism and democracy in South Africa is uncomfortably exposed.