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Unusual finds at flea market Print E-mail
21 December 2010

If it’s some unusual items or handmade crafts, trendy designs, intricately beaded jewellery or the like that you’re after, try the flea market in Newtown.

THE Highveld sun blazes over the city as the goods spread across the tables and stalls at the flea market outside the Market Theatre wink at passers-by, inviting them to take a closer look.


Imported African clothing is speciality
Imported African clothing is Matinda Josiah's speciality


The bustling flea market is in Newtown, the city’s cultural precinct. Running in front of the Market Theatre, it begins just outside Kippies - the newly relaunched jazz club started in 1987, and was named after “the sad man of jazz” Kippie Moeketsi - and ends before the bordering Miriam Makeba Street.

Founded in 1976 by Mannie Manim and the late Barney Simon, the Market Theatre building was originally Johannesburg’s Fruit Market. It was built in 1913. While the theatre still reflects the buildings history, it is now outside, at the flea market, where shoppers can haggle over prices with stallholders and shop to their hearts’ content – albeit for different wares.

Not your typical flea market flogging cheap trinkets from the orient, here you will find designer vintage shoes, arts and crafts from all over Africa, artwork, garments and jewellery made by young artists and designers waiting for their big break.

One such designer is Didi Motaung, who designs, prints and sells trendy T-shirts. His works target the conscious consumer. “My stuff isn’t for everybody. I try to make sure my designs inform people about Africa’s history and Black Consciousness,” he says.

Images of Steve Biko, reggae musicians Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, the African continent and Che Guevara hang suspended from lines hung between two trees.


Didi sells Rasta clothing
Didi Motaung sells Rasta clothing


“My clients are tourists, students, anyone who is interested in what I’m trying to say through my work …” Motaung stops mid sentence and walks over to help a middle-aged tourist from Germany interested in one of his T shirts with the slogan “art over crime” emblazoned on it.

Motaung has another stall in Soweto, in the same street as the Regina Mundi Church. The famous church is the largest Catholic Church in the township; it is best known for its role in the struggle against apartheid, when it offered sanctuary to dissidents. It was invaded by apartheid security forces seeking rioters and still bears the bullet wounds.

“I’ve been selling here on and off since 2008,” Motaung says. “I left at the end of 2009, to try to expand in Cape Town, but I’ve been back since March.”

His shirts range in price from R100 to R200, depending on style and size.

Around him are many other stallholders hailing from all over Africa; they are drawn to the vibrant inner city and set up show to flog their goods at the flea market. Matinda Josiah has been in South Africa for three years. He comes from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

“All of my wares I import from my country,” he says. His stall is meticulously neat. The highly polished wooden carvings made from ebony all line up in straight rows, descending from largest to smallest.

Traditional outfits
He also sells a collection of fabric paintings, Ethiopian garments and handmade jewellery, made from bone, wood and glass beads, and leather.


Unique handbags
Fashionable handbags hang on a tree


Behind his table there are brightly coloured kitenges and other traditional items of clothing. Similar to a sarong, a kitenge is a piece of cloth, four metres in length. It is wrapped around the chest or waist, or is worn as a head scarf.

“I came to South Africa and Johannesburg as I know there are many tourists who come here so there is a good market for my wares.”

There is also a lot of hand-beaded jewellery on sale, Venda hats and plenty of carvings.

The jewellery is affordable and rivals any sold in any high fashion stores. Hundreds of brightly coloured beaded necklaces and earrings are on sale, starting at R25; the most expensive items go for R250. Traditional and modern items, trendy and more conservative are pinned up on large boards all over the market.

Women sit behind their stalls with needles, thread and hundreds of tiny beads. If you stop to look for long enough, you are almost hypnotised by their rhythm: needle picks up bead; bead is drawn along thread and tied in place; needle picks up bead, and on it goes – each bead a note conducted by the woman to create a masterful symphony of colour and pattern.

Its set up may seem haphazard but the market fits in seamlessly with Newtown’s bohemian vibe. The flea market opens daily at 9am and closes late.

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Last Updated on 10 January 2011