Vickey de Villiers, a master’s student in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the North-West University (NWU), recently received the 2022 Founder’s Medal by the Economic Society of South Africa for the best master’s research paper submitted at a South African university.
Vickey says her master's degree journey was already an incredible experience, but she never imagined that it could be topped until she received the news of winning the 2022 Founder’s Medal. This achievement has filled her with profound gratitude and has ignited her passion to dedicate more time to her proposal for a PhD.
Her study's primary objective was to delve into the factors that impact informal street traders in the Cape Town CBD, both positively and negatively, in their pursuit of a sustainable livelihood. The research placed a particular emphasis on the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown regulations.
During the study, respondents pointed out that camaraderie among fellow traders, customer interactions, and high foot traffic were the key factors that positively influenced their work and contributed to better outcomes in informal street trading.
Conversely, inadequate infrastructure was a significant constraint, especially during adverse weather conditions. Other challenges included crime, corruption, fluctuating revenues, rising costs, heightened competition, limited access to capital and formal financial institutions, and a lack of support. Many of these challenges were exacerbated by the unpredictable trading environment created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic and the resulting lockdown measures led to unexpected and prolonged closures of informal street trading businesses, resulting in loss of income, minimal remittances, and food insecurity. Some of these adverse effects persisted even after traders gradually resumed their activities following the initial lockdown, raising questions about the informal sector's ability to absorb economic shocks.
“My interest in informal traders grew as I worked on research projects related to informal cross-border trade across the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the Southern African Development Community, and the East African Community,” says Vicky.
“My daily commute via public transport exposed me to numerous informal street traders, sparking my curiosity about their experiences and contributions. This motivated me to delve deeper into their stories, shed light on their importance, and explore interventions to promote the industry.
“Shortly before submitting my master's degree proposal, the Covid-19 pandemic and the ‘hard lockdown’ were announced. My supervisors suggested incorporating a Covid-19 perspective into my study, a suggestion that significantly enriched the research,” she adds.
Vickey conducted nine site visits from June to October 2020 to observe how the location, product offerings, and prevalence of informal street traders changed over time. These observations informed and validated the 19 semi-structured interviews conducted between April and May 2021. The interviews covered essential themes such as the characteristics and strategies of informal street trading enterprises, the impact of Covid-19, advantages of informal trading, access to resources, challenges faced, personal and business motivations, and aspirations.
She says this achievement would not have been possible without the unwavering support and guidance of several individuals and institutions and expresses her heartfelt gratitude to everyone.
“This award's exposure will hopefully lead to more people reading my study and related journal articles, providing a broader platform for the stories of these traders to be heard. It will also inspire further research and policy initiatives aimed at breaking down barriers in the informal sector, enabling participants to secure sustainable livelihoods,” Vickey adds.
Vickey de Villiers