Author: Dudumalingani Mqombothi

A bit of Jamaica in Cape Town

It’s a windy Friday afternoon. I walk through shopping stalls that line a tiny pathway between a fish and chips shop and Woolworths. A kid in a torn T-shirt flashes a 32GB memory stick in my face. I refuse the deal, even before hearing his price. I sink underground in an escalator. At the bottom of it is a man selling newspapers and three women touting various perfumes. A few minutes later, I surface in front of McDonald’s. I dissect the Golden Acre Shopping Centre in half with its walk-through and emerge on the other side that faces Darling Street. Now I’m in front of Jimmy Braye’s Rasta stall. Reggae blares from it; a huge Bob Marley poster flaps in the wind; red, green and yellow clothes are draped everywhere. “Welcome to Jamaica,” it all seems to say, but this is Cape Town.

Jimmy Braye's stall. (Pic: Dudumalingani Mqombothi)
Jimmy Braye’s stall. (Pic: Dudumalingani Mqombothi)

I start to say sorry for being late but Jimmy quickly stops me. “No need to apologise, my king,” he says. He’s young, loud, big and friendly; Ghanaian but he’s been calling South Africa home since 2003. Before that he spent some time exploring Argentina. “I have been everywhere my king. Singapore, Holland, Togo, Uganda and Australia,” he says proudly.

South Africa beckoned because he saw it as an “economically viable” country. He started out working for Community Peace Project, an NGO based in Observatory, for two years. In 2005, he embraced his passion and opened up his Rasta stall. “I saw a need for it,” he says simply. People come to Jimmy for caps, T-shirts, pants, hoodies, bags, smoking pipes, Rizla and books. He gets his supplies in bulk from Johannesburg.

I ask Jimmy how he finds Cape Town – “It’s beautiful, my king” – and South Africa today. He stares at me for a short while rearranging his thoughts and finding the right words to communicate them. “South Africa is getting there. Its democracy is still young but slowly it is getting there. I hope it does not end up ruined like other African countries. But under the current government, that seems to be happening,” he says. Jimmy tells me he doesn’t follow the news or politics but “South Africa is ready for new leadership. The same thing happening here is happening across the continent. I know this because I’ve been around.”

Jimmy Kaye. (Pic: Dudumalingani Mqombothi)
Jimmy Braye. (Pic: Dudumalingani Mqombothi)

Apart from the shop, Jimmy runs the Marcus Garvey Foundation out of his home in Vredehoek. He started the project to source funding to build homes for homeless kids. This dream is yet to materialise but he remains hopeful that donors will come on board.

During the two hours I spent with Jimmy, tourists, street kids and passersby dropped in often, some to browse, others to say hi, and some after “a spliff to blaze”. Jimmy smokes weed but doesn’t sell it. “The cops come to search for it but they do not find it because I do not sell any dagga,” he says.

Sales aren’t great but he is happy his stall is still operating after nine years. Making a profit is secondary to doing what he loves, he says. You will find Jimmy here from six to six every day except on Sundays, when he goes to church, and Tuesdays, when he goes to the Deer Park with his fellow Rastas to pray and smoke. He spends his free time working on his project for homeless kids.

Jimmy is one of many informal traders in Cape Town but he’s not only here to make a living; he wants to make a difference. We say goodbye, Rastafarian-style. I pound his left fist with mine and touch his open left palm with my own, and then I step out of Jamaica into Cape Town.

Dudumalingani Mqombothi is a film school graduate who loves reading, writing, taking walks and photography. He plans to write a novel when his thoughts stop scaring him.

Bringing coffee culture to Khayelitsha

Department of Coffee sits in the middle of the chaos of Khayelitsha Mall and the train station. This up-and-coming coffee spot prides itself on being the only one that operates in Khayelitsha, one of the largest townships in South Africa. Three years ago, a trio of young entrepreneurs – Wongani Baleni, Vusumzi Mamile and Vuyile Msaku – who hail from the community approached the Ministry of Service Delivery, an investment vehicle that supports social entrepreneurs, to make their dreams of opening a coffee shop come true. They secured a loan from the organisation and set to work on the building, branding and development of what is now a promising enterprise.

Department of Coffee opened its doors in July 2012. To celebrate its first anniversary, the owners recently hosted a coffee-tasting event for the public. Baristas effortlessly kept four different kinds of cappuccinos flowing, while we tasters sipped on each and cast a vote for the one we preferred most. The excellent green cappuccino earned my vote.

Owners Vuyile Sweetness, Vusumzi Mamile and Wongama Baleni outside Department of Coffee. (Pic: Facebook)
Owners Vuyile Msaku, Vusumzi Mamile and Wongama Baleni outside Department of Coffee. (Pic: Department of Coffee’s Facebook page)

Near the staircase, an architectural drawing of the coffee shop’s future hangs on the wall, slightly skewed. Once the building expansion plans are complete, Department of Coffee will have a covered seating area facing Ntlazane Street while the current seating in front of the shop will be barricaded. This is great news –  sitting outside with the chaos of people walking through the row of tables, smoke from the women braaing chicken feet next door and the cacophony of the train station is a little distracting.

(Pic: Facebook)
Plans are in place to develop a covered seating area outside the coffee shop. (Pic: Department of Coffee’s Facebook page)

Department of Coffee has a lively, bustling vibe compared to the quiet energy of the coffee shops in the CBD where the loudest thing you hear is a spoon dancing inside a cup. The ground floor is literally a stage to showcase local talent every last Saturday of the month. Local artists perform for an often packed and excited crowd.

There are also crafters, their heads bowed, all at work, some weaving beads and some carving wood into human faces. Mgadi, a local artist, carves his signature shacks onto an A4-size canvas. “I have clients in Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands and for those I make large-sized artwork,” he tells me.

Baristas prepare customers' orders. (Pic: Facebook)
Baristas prepare customers’ orders. (Pic: Department of Coffee’s Facebook page)

Baleni, Mamile and Msaku are determined to convince Capetonians in the city that Department of Coffee is the place to escape to. However, the other challenge apart from attracting a wider customer base is to carve one from the society in which they are located. Just 14 months on, they appear to be doing this really well. They sell an average of 200 cups of coffee a day at an affordable R8.50 each. This is a lot cheaper than coffee shops in the city, where you can expect to fork out up to R20 for a cuppa.

I am at Department of Coffee every other day, not just for their coffee but for the convenience and the vibe. The location is perfect for me –  it is in the marrow of the township, allowing me to absorb the energy of the streets and the people in between sips of my cappuccino. Across from where I sit, the ladies selling braaied corn, cow intestines and chicken feet fling me back to my childhood in the remote Transkei village of Zikhovane. And for these 20 minutes, I exist contently in two worlds at once.

Department of Coffee is located at 158 Ntlazane Street, Khayelitsha. Opening hours: Monday – Friday 5am to 6pm; Saturday 8am to 3pm.

Dudumalingani Mqombothi is a film school graduate who loves reading, writing, taking walks and photography. He plans to write a novel when his thoughts stop scaring him.

A coffee vs livelihoods: Different kinds of loss

Every evening around 7pm, they would pack up their belongings, take home the cents they made that day and come back the next morning to do it all over again. Some would stay longer at their stalls, well into the night.

At 4am every morning I wait for the sound of the trains coming in and out of the Khayelitsha train station, which is just three minutes away from my house. I’m an early riser so I’m reading or writing at this time. At 5am, the daily hustle starts. Their voices, calling out to commuters to buy a piece of meat, coffee, dagga muffins, a newspaper, sweets, a bible or teabags, reach my ears as loudly as the chugs of the trains. I have come to expect these sounds. They are synonymous with my mornings; an assurance that I’ve lived to see a new day.

But on the morning of May 13, I could sense that something was amiss. I didn’t hear their voices at 4am. When I got to the train station, I saw their makeshift stalls which had been erected against the walls of the train terminal tossed to the ground. Five guards in big jackets with a Prasa (Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa) logo kept watch. Their message was loud enough without a word being spoken.

The hawker fondly known as the ‘clown’ of the train station, who sees us off every morning and welcomes us back in the afternoon, was not at his usual spot. He has become a part of my life, the same way strangers who take the same bus or train route every day become part of each other’s lives. Our relationship is mostly nods and hellos. He’s a loud, charming character who’s never ever quiet. He has an audience to entertain, to sell bibles to.

That morning, he sat on his usual chair but not at his usual place by the entrance to the train station. He had already created his new makeshift stall: a flattened piece of cardboard balanced on top of two empty paint containers. Bibles were piled on top of it. The eviction the previous night had not deterred him. He was here to work, to avoid poverty creeping up on him as it does on so many. The other hawkers were not yet operating. The support that the wall of the train station provided was gone, so they needed to rebuild their stalls from scratch.

The woman who sells cow tripe, her face a painted canvas of struggle, resilience, and hope, was also not at her usual spot. Another lady, whose right hand always has a plastic glove on while her left holds a fork, was not selling snoek. The woman on the second level of the stairs, whose back is to the Khayelitsha Hospital, wasn’t there. She sells clothes, beanies, gloves, leggings and watches.

Two months later, their absence still haunts me. Metrorail owners moved them out of the station to an area outside the gates, an area already congested with other hawkers trying to make ends meet. There’s nothing to shield them from the winter cold or the rain, and the ‘clown’ man’s voice can no longer be heard.  

We passengers may have a wider train platform to walk on without them there, but it’s little relief to me. I can’t buy a newspaper or coffee anymore, but my loss is meaningless compared to theirs.

Dudumalingani Mqombothi, a film school graduate, was born in Zikhovane, a village in the former homeland Transkei. He loves reading, writing, taking walks and photography. He plans to write a novel when his thoughts stop scaring him.