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Culture, Reality
Mzolis Gugulethu

Chisa Nyama Disneyland

by Rémy Ngamije, images by David Bloomer / 20.04.2011

House music blares. Beer flows. Sweat on unwashed skin adds a salty, musty tang to the air. The smoke and smell of spiced meat cooking is oppressive. Flies land on people who have come to “experience” township life at Mzoli’s. From ten in the morning the queue for meat grows and by two it winds around the block. “Block” in this case is purely metaphorical since there are no clear demarcations where one property starts and another ends. Ownership is another of those hazy concepts that change over time here.

Half of Cape Town seems to have descended on the small township braai house. The black half. The white half are enjoying the Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts – in the middle of Whitesville. There’s a certain sombre something that ensures those who frequent Mzoli’s seldom show up at Kirstenbosch on a Sunday. On my last visit to a Summer Concert, I mentally stacked the black deterrents: R75 for a ticket, minimal liquor, lots of old folks around, and children, and too many flowers you can’t smoke. The acts are deterrents too. Bands not really about bump and grind. It’s clean cut. Too rigid, expensive, sober and far. In short, too white.

Mzoli’s is different – it’s rowdy and packed. Stray dogs outnumber the flies who are outnumbered by hungry kids waiting for scraps. Shouts of “WOZA! WOZA!” accompany every track change, dance circles open and close. The queue to the bathroom often merges with the dancers and you don’t know who needs to go and who’s just jiving. Mzoli’s in full swing.

My sobriety makes me stand out. Big women with gold teeth entice me with Black Label while others tempt me with meat. I shut them down politely. Unwelcome stares greet me at every turn – a black person turning away black hospitality. There is always someone not having fun. Today, I am that darkie. A pool of anti-Rémy deepens around me – the rock of sobriety in a sea of boozy black madness, dotted by random white tourists soaking up the vibe.

Mzolis Gugulethu

Everyone knows Mzoli’s is the place to go for the best meat in the city served up with a genuine township vibe – the place to experience “authentic” black culture. But what’s so good about ghetto life? My opinion is that hoods like Gugs are made to be gotten out off, not gotten into. You can eat meat anywhere. Mzoli’s is not that special.

But it does do an excellent job at letting tourists and intrepid pale locals safely brush up against the other half. A quick sociological fix. Quite a few of them on the bus ride home exclaimed how much they loved the township vibe. “Definitely coming back again!”

Beer, music and meat suggests an abundance that isn’t the whole story. For an authentic township experience, you have to wake up with your belly growling like a pack of wolves, and wonder where your next meal is coming from. Jam has to be a familiar word, but an alien taste. The free-wheeling frivolity of Mzoli’s rarely spills into the street. It doesn’t exist around the corner. It’s a very controlled experiment. A social placebo – you experience a lot, without experiencing much at all.

Outside in the parking lot, cars mounted on the dirt strewn kerbs stretch endlessly. Golf GTIs, Audis and Mercs. High-end rides guarded by dirty children waiting for a Rand from the drunk patrons inside. One BMW number plate reads “TENDER – WP”. The contrast between this wealth on wheels and the surrounding poverty brings out the commie in me. I want to see a working class revolution there and then. Where is the SACP when you need them? (Most of them are inside. Marx rolls in his grave.)

Mzolis Gugulethu

Mzoli’s progressively descends into a state of nature as time passes. Meat buckets spill. Grease coats every surface. Bathrooms clog. Drunken men embrace you – soaking you in pork juice and beer sweat – while older women work their butts into your crotch as they dance. Sober, Mzoli’s is a nightmare.

Questioning unbecoming black behaviour is taboo in Mzansi. Because of Apartheid, in the New South Africa, black people do what black people want to do. Questioning this implies social detachment, proof that you’re incapable of understanding “what we have been through” and “who we are.” Sacrosanct black experience is the all-trumping card that squashes any and all debate about the kind of regressive cultural shortcomings most communities display. Criticism of any kind is not welcome – it’s not black.

But try sitting at Mzoli’s sober, surrounded by the black middle class idly blowing money, with nothing better to do on a Sunday than drink and eat themselves comatose while raggedy kids beg for money outside. Your conscience awakens. It’s shocking. And you feel bad. Traitorous even. It is as though that Windhoek Lager guy shakes his head at you and asks, “What are you doing Rémy? Hmm? Think thinking like this is helping anyone?”

Mzoli’s is not black – it’s a Sophiatown Disneyland selling the image short. It’s a profitable franchise doing very little for the desperate community surrounding it. Just another drinking hole in Cape Town. We should stop buying that it’s “cultural” just because it’s in a township.

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  1. Nazareth Savage says:

    I agree 100%. I actually made a conscious decision to never go there again (its been close to 2yrs now). the idea of going to gugs to “showoff” infront of people who barely have anything doesnt sit well with me too.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like the undertow of gentrification.

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  3. Long Tall Sally says:

    Last time I was at Mzoli’s there were more white hipsters than black people. The guys hawking sunglasses knew only to sell wayfarers. The only thing that felt authentic was the shitty toilets.

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  4. vuyo seripe says:

    This article makes a lot of sense. It reminds me of PE township tavern: Patido’s or Kwa Pat (in Xhosa).

    I reckon it’s very easy to critisize but how about bring about a solution marrha heh? The thing is blacks in townships are not taught much and they don’t teach each other if they know anything at all. The only “culture” we, as black people, have managed to spread are fancy cars and nice shoes while you go to bed with a hungry stomach.

    The flies and stray dogs, which you will not find at Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts, are a result of air polution and disgusting living conditions, which are in fact a result of Apartheid. We will be poor for a long time, places like Mzoli’s will exist for a long time and drunk girls will always girate somewhere in the township and drink Black Label. And phuleeeeez! do you really expect a tavern to help it’s surrounding community? Taverns are not there to improve living conditions, brother!

    The fuckers in Kirstenbosch (who are probably white) will have a better time in a better environment. Why? Because they’re white, probably investment babies with money to throw around born into a better environment. I’m sure there black kids there too (with white tendencies). I think it’s complex – we need more than critizm as black people.

    We need Education, a Culture of Investing in each ourselves/each other/our ideas, a Culture of sharing (skills, wealth, knowledge). I could go on forever…

    And we need to read the Freedom Charter and UNDERSTAND and LIVE IT!

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  5. vuyo seripe says:

    please excuse my English. I was writing really fast and from the heart <3


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  6. mega-douche says:

    race: always a factor. sadly, even in the spotless era of the born-free. Both of today’s write-ups soon get down to it. it’s tedious. but maybe one day we can all just be folk.

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  7. Tired.of.depressing.sh says:

    Hmmm… Remy. Your writing at first impressed me, but the sarcastic whine and and eloquent drone gets to me now. Do you have anything positive to say?

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  8. Stonnito says:

    Townships, particularly in the Southern part of the country (KZN, EC, WC, Mpumalanga) are the worst kind of habitat for humankind…the setup itself is not encouraging (matchbox houses, no garden, no trees) to live in, not only to suburban dwellers but also to rural people particularly coming from the North Provinces (Northwest, Limpopo, Northern Cape). If you do your survey, a lot of people from these provinces do not prefer living in townships, and work harder than township dwellers to afford flats in the CBD. For a township dweller to live in the township is such a liberating priviledge, and comes with unruliness that was instilled by noisy nature of their backgrounds in townships…only to find that here people call police for you if you make noise…then it calls for this kasi hooligans to go back to places like Mzoli on a Sunday. The people who idolise kasi life are have this “hobo mentality” about everything. Showing off is the only thing that happens ekasi…no positive role modeling at all.

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  9. Memomeme says:

    Nailed it. Nicely framed.

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  10. Caramel Soulchild says:

    Erm ok, but I live less than 5kms away, and on a sunday if we feel like a braai without the effort we do mzolis. I guess some people go there for other ideological reasons, but mzolis? starving kids? is no different from the beggars/starving kids outside of cavendish etc. you have failed to note that Mzoli in Cape Town is an example of the contrasts the country as a whole have. We can all dress up and got to the ZAR’s of the world, we drive out of our working class areas to go to fancy places, at the end of the day we come home, and wake up this is Africa, people are always gonna starve, dont look for k*k at places like Mzoli where people jst go to chill, drink, eat, and vendors are also everywhere, in fact this whole piece is a klomp k*k, MINIETE!

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  11. Uterusfound says:

    Seripe – for some reason your post made me very angry at you and I almost resorted to equating you to the result of Apartheid, with all the niceties that go with that. Keep your fucking mouth shut, and next time a swell of ‘speaking from the heart’ comes on – direct it in the nearest toilet bowl. Your line of thinking is what is wrong with South Africa today.

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  12. Michael says:

    Uterusfound, methinks you are the one who should rather keep your opinion to yourself.

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  13. LukeSkyCrawler says:

    Apartheid probably caused global warming … When are black people gonna finally stand up and account for their own Shit ,, i’m tired of always having the race card or apartheid thrown in my face … Thats kak … pROUDLY bLACK …

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  14. vuyo seripe says:

    48 years of Apartheid is a long time and all those years need to be undone. 16 years of a so called democracy doesn’t mean that our (black people’s) way of thinking should automatically change and we should forget the fact that the effects of opression are evident in our everyday living. My way of thinking and being is a result of Apartheid, more than that – The Resistance of Apartheid…

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  15. Uterusfound says:

    oh the resistance song…you must be into the whole ‘kill the boer’ thing too, right? I mean those khaki-shorts-wearing scumbags had their way with your people for a whole 48 years. I vote we cure the problem with fire and panga. And while we are at it, let’s sort out all these goddamn immigrants, who do they think they are, coming here and enjoying the fruits of an oppressive regime set-up by those dirt-loving farmers. to you, seripe, i hand the scepter of destruction and a ticket to the next ANC Youth League piss-up. I hear Malema is on the market for a new mistress.

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  16. p says:

    vuyo … have you considered that “investment babies … fuckers in Kirstenbosch” are people whose culture is one of “Education, a Culture of Investing in each ourselves/each other/our ideas, a Culture of sharing (skills, wealth, knowledge)” that you say black people need.

    The black kids at kirstenbosch, “(with white tendencies)”, are just people whose parents took on some of that culture.

    Make sure you know what you’re resisting and what you’re accepting. You and your kids live in the world you make.

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  17. react says:

    Good writing…

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  18. skelem vir dwelms says:

    whatevs. mzolis braai sauce is one of the best in south africa. suck a fat chop you pompous prick.

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  19. underwhelmed says:

    Uterusfound. which side of the bed did you wake up from. vuyo. i understand where you’re coming from but maybe a chill pill is in order. which brings me to remy. i have only been to Mzoli’s once and decided then that i would not go again because i do not enjoy house music. your issue however seem to be the fact that mzoli’s is an eatery surrounded by dirty hungry fly-ridden children and dogs, in short – poverty. there is not one suburban yuppie who drives out to mzoli’s not expecting to be confronted with poverty. people go out there in defyance of apartheid i think. look it up, its a little law called group areas act which kept black people in the geographic margins of the city. most of the patrons are outsiders who go to the township because that shebeen is the closest they are ever going to get to seeing, being and experiencing the township. other people can start ngo’s, soup kitchens, community forums and other initiatives that will change the lives of people who live in gugulethu. mzoli’s as a venue and the patrons do not pretend to be on that mission.
    people who live in gugs will drive out to kirstenbosch to see lira or freshly ground or some rock band. these stereotypes we are using to describe ourselves really do take away the trouble of having to actually get to know ourselves and actually solving our problems. some advice remy, instead of being bitter that your white friend go jolling with you in the impoverished township you don’t live in. why don’t you start speaking to them about restitution and giving back from the systematic privilleges they and their parents were raised on and the privilleges they continue to benefit from as white people in south africa.

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  20. Killerkatsi says:

    As usual you write phenomenally Remy although I can’t say I stand by some of your points. I LIKE THE WAY THEY BRAAI MEAT and THE CHEAP BOOZE! That’s firstly why I go there. Sure I’m a spawn of slightly middle class parents but I’m not about to apologize for having another chill place called Mzoli’s (on a list where Kirstenbosch, Long Street, Gardens and the likes feature too). And who said vele that Mzoli is there to undo the starvation in the area and why as darkies do we have to feel guilt for wanting to chow because someone else in the near vicinity isn’t. Has you feeling guilty or Nazareth boycotting made any difference to those very people’s lives. Probably not. SA hosts loads of contradictions one of the biggest being the array of traits that come to make a single individual- especially a black individual exposed to the black and whites of life. Instead of always trying to play traits off against each other, sometimes owning them makes more sense. And yes you may be a disillusioned Africa, and most of us are, but don’t be too hard on everyone for being at Mzoli’s because they may not all be there for the reasons you think they are, BEE, EXCHANGE STUDENT or not.
    As for Luke, I agree that darkies should learn to own some of their fuckups but please can we not act like the Apartheid fartl doesn’t still stink. People are still largely living in those areas put in place by separate development. And as far as I know white people tend to FEEL guilty but when have we ever had a grand white choir singing that beautiful hit “SORRY”. Can we not act like white South Africa has taken big steps to OWN their fuckups but more importantly can we not act like big steps have been taken to rectify the fuckups (and this is with regards to governance by the Verwoerds and ANC/Julius- lovers). Unfortunately children do pay for the sins of their parents and this applies both ways.

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  21. shame luvie... says:

    a needed write-up & necessary responses to an over-due “culture/social” debate. My disappointment is wtih Mzoli’s as a business model. I think the owners have failed both themselves and the community by not taking advantage of the pull the joint has earned over the years. I boycott it for that & have since found more spiced-up & varied spots in other surrounding townships. Damn, even the Jazz clubs ko kasie are hot on a Sunday…

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  22. True story says:

    I love Mzoli’s, the meat, the vibe and that it gives lives the opportunity to intersect that may not have done so elsewhere. Yes, and that is because those living spaces were segregated for a long time. But they are not any more.

    Remy, with respect, if the black people at Mzoli’s are too black for you and the black people at Kirstenbosch (incidentally, no small number) are too white for you – what is the exact, level of blackness that you find acceptable? And who defines that?

    There’s a Mexican saying “Much good is done by one who does not block the way”. Stand aside then and let the rest of us enjoy the things that bind rather than divide: even if it’s as simple as a good chop, a cold beer and music.

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  23. Caramel Soulchild says:

    ERM YOU PEOPLE ARE BLOK BENOUT, i have never seen a dirty child there, and i have been going every 2nd weekend for 3 years, you people are JUS. if u want to see dirty and hungry , go to the town center, u know fokol about the flats, then base some obtuse visit to Mzoli as this microcosm of the current state of black youth and entitlement etc, seriosuly go KAK.

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  24. Kontlap says:

    Hayi Remy, how about u go stay elokshini for a year, minimum, and then come back and comment. Would be interesting to hear your difference in opinion. You are writing from the outside-in as opposed to the other way around. Therefore, you eloquent article and use of the English language describing your own people as if you are a descendant of Kurt Darren, means fokol!

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  25. Mpho says:

    ..and that is the uncomfortable truth about township life; too loud to ignore. Spot on. I suspect your brave article will draw a lot of mixed reactions.

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  26. ingamla yasekapa says:

    hmmm, i been to some k-bosch sunday concerts packed with black peeps and full of bump n grind. it always bleaks me out when peeps criticise that theres only one type of peeps at an obviously for one-type-of-peeps event. Dont expect lank whities at a Xhosa church service and dont expect darkies and Andre Roux live at grnadwest.

    yet there will be exceptions, for that is the beauty of freedom in our land..

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  27. hater says:

    vuyo’s fokken wors!! seriously apartheid is alive and well and living in the townships, apartheid of the mind! ok i see this argument is long over… :S

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  28. Bonisa says:

    I am 29years old and have spent most of my life living in a township.Which township is not characterised by a ‘shisa nyama’,or ‘indawo yokubenga’;wherein most folks go to enjoy their weekends?So what if Mzoli’s succeeds in attracting tourists and ‘BEE,types’?Whose fault is that?As far as I am concerned,all tourist experiences are fragmentary.No place can ever be experienced holisticaly by a visiting outsider. How many overseas people come to a safari for that ‘African experience?Or Times Square for that ‘New York experience’?The general uncertainty with regards to my safety coupled with traveling costs, is what prompted me to leave my township(Khayelitsha)for a suburb.But what about the rest of the shit that I like about it,should I now cease to go there anymore just because my car might offend certain township folk?What about my friends,and my favourite shebeens,should I tolerate the lame and boring overpriced bars donning the old South African flag of the burbs?I don’t think so.

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  29. […] Chisa Nyama Disneyland […]

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  30. 2012 crib chump says:

    what the hell is everyones prob, ithink that chisa nyamas are ok but when the placesthey are situated are not clean i get very discusted. are these the onlyplaces that you can show us? and can someone please tell indian people toplease come and have a bite . by the way i dont know whatr you guys are talking about i havent read your coments and posts. tt signing out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  31. Roseofsowero says:

    You “uterusfound” must suffer from the “laggar mentality”. Its a height of arrogance and hypocracy to say, whoever talks of the black reality and it’s dismal state is always accused of being hostile to the “new South Africa let’s just dance to the sunset inpite of everything cumbaya”. Some of us are too honest to fall for that, but you welcome to invite that “Lukeskycrawler”, and have kids together.

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