Minting it: Trading on Joburg’s Mint Street

(First published by Urban Joburg)

One of the defining, and most enthralling, features of Mint street is that it is open for business, in some form or another, for the greater portion of any 24-hour day.

The variety of establishments operating from the buildings on either side is of the street is rather astonishing – financial institutions, doctors’ offices, furniture, grocery, clothing and cell phone shops, interspersed with bakeries, tailors and a plethora of “mainstream” take away joints and “authentic” curry restaurants.

The array of merchandise and services on sale is similarly impressive – from groceries, vegetables and fresh-baked bread to kitsch cell-phone covers, costume jewel-studded burkas and bollywood dvds – if you look for it hard enough, chances are it will be for sale on Mint street.  Lawyers, bankers, dentists, wedding planners all have offices, some open till well into the evening.  And where else in Joburg can you get a haircut at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night?

But even more impressive is the seemingly effortless flow between this rainbow of formal business on either side of the street and the informal trade and business that takes place in the spaces between. From the bustling market on Fordsburg Square towards its southern end (where one can purchase a plethora of perfumes, spices, make-up, impossibly noisy toys and jewellery to complete the painstakingly crafted image of both every aspiring Bollywood actress and each self-respecting southern-suburb biker-boy) to the seemingly arbitrary dvd and studded-belt salespeople lining the pavements, Mint street at once blurs the line between formal and  informal trade and invents a number of alternative formalities in between.

Mint street 2


Indeed, like Kerk street in the City centre, Mint street shows how the creation and maintenance of dedicated space for informal trade and its strategic management (by which we mean management that is neither lackadaisical or piecemeal as in so many over-traded spaces in the city, nor overzealous or draconian along the lines of last year’s equally unconscionable and unconstitutional Operation Clean Sweep) not only creates a vibrant, profitable climate for formal and informal business alike, but also adds richness, texture and buzz to public space that no amount of landscaping, corporate investment or commissioned public art could ever achieve.

As such, Mint street, for us, is a model of how to structure commerce in a Joburg that must cater for markets as financially and culturally diverse as its inhabitants.

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