Communities of hawkers or street traders have been a persistent element in the retail environment of the South African city. Indeed, the past and present-day struggles of informal traders seeking to invade the central space of major urban areas constitutes one vital theme in the broader 'struggle for the city' in South Africa (Cooper 1983). Over the past decade the activities and experience of informal retailers have been the focus of extensive scholarly analysis in South Africa. At least two major factors account for the recent popularity of studies on the informal retail environment. First is the emergence and strengthening of a new school of South African 'urban studies from below' which stresses the imperative for investigations on the lives, experiences and struggles of the 'ordinary' or 'common people' of the city (Bozzoli 1979; Johnstone 1982; van Onselen 1982; Bozzoli 1987). This new research concentration on the world of the dominated classes in the city has provided the foundations for the writing of a 'people's history' (Callinicos 1981, 1987; Bozzoli 1987) and a 'people's geography' (Crush and Rogerson 1983; Crush 1986; Rogerson and Beavon 1988). The second key influence upon the appearance of a stream of contemporary informal retailing research derives from the South African State's commitment during the 1980s to promoting or developing aspects of the informal sector, including street trading, as part of its strategy for 'reforming' apartheid (Rogerson and Beavon 1980; Wellings and Sutcliffe 1984; Rogerson 1986a, 1987; Booth 1987).
It is the intention in this paper to draw together several strands of the recent body of research which interrogates the evolution, changing nature, and situation of informal retailing in Johannesburg, South Africa's leading urban centre. The historical and contemporary struggles of Johannesburg street traders against poverty, persecution, and prosecution, to a large extent, are replicated by the experience of hawker communities in other urban centres of southern Africa (Dewar