The Durban Metropolitan Area is the main economic driver in KwaZulu-Natal, contributing over half of the province's output, employment and income. In national terms, Durban is the second most important economic complex after Gauteng, accounting for 15% of national output, 14% of household income and 11% of national employment. Regional development corridors link Durban northwards to Richards Bay and Maputo, and westward to Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg.
The inability of the formal sector of the economy to provide sufficient employment opportunities for Durban's growing population, has led to the development of a fast growing informal sector. It is thought that about 16% of the labour force is active in the informal sector. Very few people in the informal sector appear to be involved in manufacturing activities. Most people provide services for low pay (such as domestic work) followed by trading, catering and accommodation. It is expected that future growth will occur in the trading sector. There are some 20,000 street traders in Durban, including a Muthi Trade of regional importance. There have been major clashes between street traders and the police. After one such clash 500 street traders were arrested.
A shack dwellers' movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, that draws most of its membership from this sector, has begun to vigorously contest the city's treatment of the poor and, in particular, its refusal to provide services to shack settlements and the ongoing illegal evictions, in which people are either left homeless or forcibly removed to the urban periphery of the city. A number of its members have laid charges against the police, alleging illegal arrests, assaults, evictions and, in E-Section Umlazi and the Siyanda shack settlement, police killings. Police violence has been prominently covered in the international media and a number of church leaders have publicly sided with the movement in its opposition to the Municipality.