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Rights, regulation and bureaucratic impact: The impact of human rights litigation on the regulation of informal trade in Johannesburg

M Pieterse


In contemplating the extent to which rights-based litigation is conducive to positive social change, attention ought to be paid to the bureaucratic impact of court judgments that vindicate rights against the State. As a case study of such impact, this article considers the effects of human rights litigation on the regulation of informal trade in the City of Johannesburg, where a 2013 attempt by local government to clamp down on informal trade in the central business district (CBD) led to high-profile court action. After describing and problematising the City's general approach to managing informal trade, the article focuses on "Operation Clean Sweep", which aimed to rid much of the CBD of informal traders and became the focal point of rights-based resistance. It then briefly describes the  constitutional and jurisprudential framework within which the legal challenge to "Operation Clean Sweep" was to be decided, before critically discussing the judgment of the Constitutional Court in South African Informal Traders Forum v City of Johannesburg 2014 4 SA 371 (CC), which effectively halted "Operation Clean Sweep" by interdicting the City from removing traders from their places of business. The article then proceeds to consider the aftermath of the judgment, and assesses its impact on the City's informal trade policy and urban management practices, as well as on the broader regulatory and political environment around street trade in South African cities. The article shows that the bureaucratic impact of the judgment has, at best, been mixed, and that the judgment has not been entirely successful in disrupting the legal and bureaucratic mindsets, frameworks and processes that simultaneously create, exacerbate and unsuccessfully attempt to address the "unmanageability" of street trade in Johannesburg.

Keywords: Adjudication; rights-based litigation; bureaucratic impact; urban governance; regulation; informal trade.
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