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Warwick Junction

Photo credit: Chris Eason


Market stands, reused spaces, transportation infrastructure, wares for sale, and restaurants.


A setting for informal and sanctioned work with ongoing efforts from multiple organizations to keep the area secure.


People who work as non-sanctioned vendors, Asiye Etafuleni, eThekwini Municipality


A transit hub with nine markets that offer commuters and shoppers wares ranging from fresh produce and prepared food to medicines, music, and textiles.


Easily accessible as the primary transport hub for the city of Durban, with more than 450,000 people passing through daily.


While imperfect, Warwick junction allows historically marginalized groups the opportunity to work and earn a more durable livelihood than without the junction. Under apartheid planning, Warwick Junction was an entry point to an all-white city that allowed black people with work permits to pass. It was designed to discourage free-flowing movement, and black informal traders faced harassment and displacement in the area. Activists and NGOs currently work to maintain the current status of Warwick Junction as an open place of employment.

Life cycle

More research is needed into the structures at and around the junction, how they are maintained, and what their relationships are with market and transportation activities.

Do you have something to add? Let us know! 

Designing Space with Room for Everyone 

Warwick Junction's labyrinth of stalls, arches, bridges, and aisles contain everything anyone in South Africa could need. The junction operates as a transportation and trading hub on the outskirts of the city of Durban, South Africa. The junction serves more than 460,000 people and 38,000 vehicles daily and covers more space than any other junction in South Africa. It accommodates between 5,000 and 8,000 vendors every day, divided into nine sections: 

  •  The Early Morning market, the most visited section of the junction, consists of 200 vendors selling fresh produce, spices, and flowers.

  • The bead market's vendors from coastal areas adjacent to Durban sell traditional Zulu beadwork.

  • Vendors in the Berea Station market sell clothing and contemporary technology products along with traditional Zulu items such as spears and shields.

  •  Visitors can find cooked cows' heads, a delicacy of the region, at the Bovine Head market.

  • The Herb market's 700 vendors offer herbal products to relieve ailments and professionals to suggest which ones will help.

  • Customers to the Impepho and Lime market can buy white and red lime mined in Ndwedwe north of Durban. The impepho vendors primarily come from Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape Province where it grows.

  • The Brook Street market has an upper-level food court and a lower-level market with clothing and household goods.

  •  180 vendors sell jewelry, spices, and art in the Victoria Street market.

  •  Vendors on the Music bridge sell CDs and instruments.

From food to music to herbs, the Warwick Junction provides for those working there and the local communities. And, it exemplifies a collaborative project that involves designed systems of government, space, commerce, and infrastructure.

What Happens when Community-led Design Receives Institutional Support

The junction began around 1910 as a market space used by Indian and Black traders during apartheid when Indian and African-owned buses were not allowed access to the inner city. The World Resource Institute writes that the structure "was intentionally designed to discourage movement, enabling local authorities to close off the city to non-whites living on the periphery at a moment's notice." Police harassed traders, confiscated goods, and prevented vendors from stopping on paths to trade. “The inner city was primarily for white people,” said Richard Dobson, co-founder of the non-profit Asiye eTafuleni (AeT). “There was actually a real, real blind spot to servicing any of those communities—particularly if they weren't white.” The suffering of the junction also reflected the apartheid government's disdain for informal economies. It was not until 1994, following the election of the first South African democratic government, that new mandates supported informal trade. 

The eThekwini Municipality, in charge of the area where the junction stands, began an urban renewal project to reverse "the decades racist urban design, disinvestment and neglect." This was a design problem with a design solution. Instead of heavy policing, the municipality focused on improving safety. It launched an area-based management initiative that protects and encourages Warwick Junction. The initiative observed the daily activities in the junction, watched how vendors operated, and where customers walked. The team talked with people about needs and funneled this research to the design team, which created new models for vendor stalls. Participedia writes that the 2001 initiative provided better protection from weather and storage facilities, which allowed vendors to sell higher-valued goods and greater quantities.  The “bottom-up momentum”, combined with infrastructure improvements like widened pavements and storage facilities, has translated into bustling markets with a constant flow of commuters shuffling between traders’ stalls. Project for Public Space reports, since the initiative, "there has been a surge of energy and community activism amongst the area’s informal traders." The city spent time to listen to those working in the junction before offering its support. 

Design for individual and social stability

The junction serves the most-basic needs of those who use it. Project for Public Space reports the market has led to economic development and stability while deterring inner-city crime. But increasing access to food marks one of the junction's most important contributions. Food Tank reports that food is one of the most traded products at the junction. It's mostly affordable, culturally valued, and accessible food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, ‘phutu’ (maizemeal), beans, boiled mealies, and bovine head meat served with steamed bread and fresh chilis. Vendors often buy goods in bulk and divide them into small bundles for individual purchase. This practice allows people to buy food daily, which is necessary for the many people who don't have access to a refrigerator. Food Tank also reports that customers who lack a consistent income can still buy food on credit. Eating regularly and knowing food is available regularly is a significant outcome of Warwick Junction that attests to the cohesiveness of its community.  

Continuing the Fight for Informal Economies and Design that Supports Unplanned Communities

This example of an important informal economy averted destruction when development of a shopping center for the 2010 World Cup threatened to replace it  — a common response from governments to international attention, afraid of losing face and control. Protests erupted and continued for months; the vendors, informal as they may be categorized, relied on the junction for their livelihood. The city set aside its redevelopment plans. Anne Maassen and Madeleine Galvin call the story of the junction "a story of social healing and the enduring contradictions of a modern African city." But the junction requires ongoing support.

In 2022, herb traders called for more support for their profession and their markets. The Traditional Health Practitioners Act of 2007 did little other than officially recognize the practice of traditional medicine, as reported by New Frame. They need better places to work and more space to practice, especially in markets where their patients often meet them. New Frame quotes a healer named Majozi, who talks about the need to focus on African traditions and fitting legislation to the people who exist under it. Majozi says, 

“We’ve been waiting for progress and development in this market for years now. We don’t know if it will ever change. We depend on ourselves now. We have created alternatives and solutions on our own because if we wait for the municipality to do it, we will wait until we retire. From collecting R20 from each table each day, we are able to pay for more security and sanitisers for the market. The government’s approach needs to focus more now on developing an African-based system that will be on par with the conventional healthcare system and in accordance with the local realities pertaining to traditional medicine, especially in urban areas such as Durban.”

Healers account for 80% of all healthcare in South Africa, according to the World Health Organization. The Herb market supplies a steady supply of medicine, as it's open every day and is one of the largest herb markets in South Africa. But the heat, overcrowded conditions, and lack of hygiene measures mean the healers and vendors who operate in the informal economy can't serve their community as well as possible. 

M21D and Warwick Junction

Asiye eEtafuleni states its goals as "Working to achieve spatial justice and equitable access to sustainable livelihoods for informal workers in urban public space." M21D agrees. We're enthusiastic to continue research into Warwick Junction as an example of system and spatial design that supports individual and local communities.  

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