Informality and right to the city: Contestations for safe and liveable spaces in Masvingo City, Zimbabwe
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Informal sector operators in many cities of the global South face extensive harassment, criminalization and restricted access to public spaces despite the important role the sector is playing in urban development. Using Lefebvre’s theory of right to the city the study aimed to investigate how the city of Masvingo has embraced urban informality. The study also examined how informal sector operators in the city of Masvingo have been accessing –urban space and creating opportunities for the informal sector to access such space. The study also examined how the provision of essential services in the city has been extended to the people in the informal sector as a way of granting them their right to urban social and infrastructural services. The research took a survey design where a cross section of Masvingo city, including the city centre, residential areas and industrial areas, was sampled for the study. Methodologically the research used a mixed method approach to data collection and analysis, where both qualitative and quantitative methods were used. A questionnaire survey constituted the quantitative component of the study and it was administered to the informal sector operators, In-depth interviews and field observations were at the core of the qualitative methods that were used in the research. In-depth interviews were done with key informants in the city and these included officials in the city council, government ministries, and leaders of informal sector associations and civic groups in the city. Field observations were done in areas where the informal activities were carried out to assess the provision of services and the environment in which informal activities were operating. Data collected through interviews and field observations was analysed qualitatively and the SPSS was used for quantitative data analysis. The research found that informal operators in the city of Masvingo are being disenfranchised of their right to the city in various ways. They are not afforded the right to express their lives in the city centre as the city authorities are determined to flush out all informal structures and activities from the city centre in line with their modern city goals. The planning system in the city does not recognise informal activities as approved land user in the city centre and they do not plan for them in new spatial development projects. However, informal activities continue to occupy contested spaces, where they are in direct contravention of existing regulatory framework and this has been used to marginalise them and deny them of their right to the city. Right to the city calls for all urban residents to have access to the city centre and that access to city space should be based on use values rather than exchange values (Lefebvre 1996). Also, informal sector operators based at various sites in the city are generally denied access to essential services such as waste collection, provision of water and sewer services.