Despite its historic significance, strategic position and size, the parade does not live up to its potential as an everyday public space. This is partially because it is cut off from the city by roads on three sides, which means that it has dead edges and therefore forms a convenient parking lot. However, the problem is not only spatial. It is also crippled by management policies, which govern who can use the space and how. Its primary function is as a trading space: on a Wednesday and a Saturday, about 1 000 individuals arrive before dawn to set up their stalls and convert it to a vibrant flea market. The rest of the week small-scale traders occupy the edges of the site.
The spatial system used by the majority of the traders is a portable metal framework that gets erected in the morning and dismantled at the end of the day. The goods and metal poles are kept in big lockable metal trolleys that are stored in a warehouse nearby. Plastic sheets provide some shade and shelter from the rain. In many cases, the trolley is laid on its side to form a table. Goods are then hung from the metal structures and displayed on the tables. The beauty of this system is that it allows for the maximum amount of flexibility and spatial arrangements. Stalls can grow or shrink incrementally depending on need and available resources.
Eighty percent of the Grand Parade traders are foreign migrants. The traders’ profit margins are low, as the majority of traders earn a maximum daily profit of under R500. It is however noticeable that the more established traders (Wednesday and Saturday market) earn more. Many of these are locals who have been trading on the Parade for over 30 years. But for the smaller stalls, things are more difficult. A key factor is that the monthly storage costs are extremely high. For many the process of wheeling the trolley from the storage facility to the Parade is too arduous. Some Tanzanian refugees have identified this as their gap in the market and charge R30 to push the trolleys and assist the stall owner with setting up. Many female traders have to rely on this expensive system. Another major concern raised by the traders’ associations is the lack of secure tenure, since they don’t have long-term leases. They are therefore unable to plan in advance or find corporate sponsors as partners. This limits their ability to make improvements to the space, rent their own storage facilities at better prices or invest in new spatial systems.