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Open air restaurants Print E-mail
12 November 2006

Dining out | Historic restaurants | African restaurants | Vegetarian restaurants | Steakhouses

OPEN-AIR restaurants have mushroomed on the streets of Jo'burg, bringing a new liveliness to the city. Many of these are run by unemployed women, mostly first generation migrants to the city.

open air restaurant
Instant service at a street restaurant in Johannesburg's inner city. The customers sit on a makeshift bench under a plastic tarpaulin to protect them from rain. Picture: Lucille Davie

As you walk towards the Noord street taxi rank from the direction of Twist Street, you find yourself surrounded by hawkers peddling various items. Under one makeshift tent made of plastic sheets perched precariously on poles, you are greeted by the inviting smell of curry.

This is a 'restaurant' owned jointly by Fatima Langa and Berlina Sithole, two friends from Maputo in Mozambique. Before opening their stall here, they had both worked at various restaurants, Berlina cooking food and Fatima serving customers. However, since being laid off in 1999, they have struggled to find employment.

In July, they pooled their resources to establish a fast food restaurant opposite the rank. Their establishment is a rather simple affair, consisting of one stool, two crates, a Primus stove, three huge pots and numerous plates. The two ladies put up their tent every morning and demolish it in the evening when they go home. They fetch water from the nearby BP service station.

Their clients are mainly taxi drivers and marshals, mostly migrant Shangaans from Mozambique who relish food from their homeland. Business is not particularly lucrative around the taxi rank as they have to compete with seven other informal restaurants in the same neighbourhood. Customers are given a choice between pap and rice served with chicken or beef stew. Mondays are special, when the Mozambican cuisine of morogo (indigenous spinach) is served. The Mozambicans use these occasions to exchange news from home and to catch up on the latest gossip.



Across town, at the corner of West and Hall streets, just opposite the taxi rank, you find Xoliswa Mnyaka, another 'restaurant' owner who operates from a sheltered pavement. She has been selling from this spot since 1993 - and it shows. Her business is relatively prosperous. The symbols of her prosperity include, a trolley for transporting her belongings daily, better quality pots, two Primus stoves, plates, a variety of spices, more chairs and a table for the comfort of customers. Security guards at a nearby firm allow her to store her belongings there overnight. They also provide her with water. She is originally from the Transkei where her mother and two children still reside. Xoliswa last worked for a supermarket as a store assistant in 1991.

Xoliswa has established a niche market by serving traditional Xhosa dishes. Her menu offers the traditional Xhosa mqushu (samp), rice or pap with chakalaka, mogodu (tripe), intestines, chicken stew, fried chicken or steak. A plate will set you back R9. Her clients are mainly taxi commuters, passers-by and workers from firms in the surrounding area. One customer, Mandla Grootboom, said he buys food there because "it is cheap and it reminds me of home." Another client, John Mkhwanazi, said he buys from Xoliswa's stall because food there is "like the food I eat at home. This place is also clean."

The restaurant owners expressed their gratitude to the city council for providing them daily with plastic bags for waste disposal. They appealed to the council to construct stalls for them. While a market would shelter them from rain, they fear losing their regular clients if they are made to move from their current spots. In the meantime, they remain at the mercy of the elements, and on rainy days, their business suffers.

Given a choice, these women would prefer to have regular jobs. Xoliswa complains that many of her customers buy on credit and it is difficult to get them to pay up. As Berlina explains, "We make little money here and we have to share it. Sometimes business is slow, like when it is raining. It is better to work."


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Last Updated on 10 January 2013