Small, informal retailers are a ubiquitous feature of any developing country’s urban landscape. Known as spaza shops in SA, they are an important, even vital, component in the townships. Numbering more than 100,000 across the nation, they make critical contributions to local food security, self-employment and community cohesion.

In the past decade, the sector has undergone extensive change. A new class of traders has emerged. They have often — but not always — been foreign. For this reason, this changing character of SA’s spaza sector has become associated with chauvinistic and xenophobic portrayals of immigrant shopkeepers...

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