First-world shopping with township vibe

Zenoyise Madikwa

Zenoyise Madikwa

Jabulani Mall is not just a blurb in the news to excite tourists who come to Soweto. It is a real shopping experience with all the trappings of a first-world retail environment.

On a friend's recommendation, my colleague Amanda Ngudle and I ventured into the mall for the first time.

Our first impression of the shopping centre was that the whole city had come to the ghetto.

A second impression was that the centre's concept is unencumbered by the paternalism that has characterised similar projects in the townships in the past.

This is reflected in the array of tenants, who represent the who's who among the country's top retail brands - stocked pound for pound with items to be found at their franchise counterparts in Sandton, Ballito or Camps Bay.

Apart from the presence of curious figures with super-duper big phones, crooked caps and fake sunglasses, the centre bustles with life. The big-framed mamas with babies on their backs swinging their dimpled arms around and catching up on the latest gossip in loud voices add to an air of conviviality so characteristic of township life.

How the suburban malls have robbed us of the chance to just be ourselves in our own neighbourhoods, without the pressure of keeping up appearances among the mink-and- manure crowd elsewhere.

Driven by the incurable impulse to shop, we breezed into some clothing stores. Our first stop was Edgars. Inside, customer service was scary, with some staff looking like they'd rather die than serve us. Eventually we were served by sour-faced, indifferent and unfriendly staff.

Brushing aside the experience, we headed for Steers with empty stomachs and expectations of good and hospitable service, not to mention good food. Nice welcome, but no menus were available.

Spur ribs have their unique appeal and every now and then the urge to indulge emerges. Off then we went to the Wild Spear Spur, our mouths drooling in anticipation of juicy ribs.

But, though the waiter who served us was warm, the food was cold. The onion rings and chips looked and tasted like they were prepared a week earlier. The lamb ribs were extremely tender, but did not quite taste like what we were used to.

Shoppers from the townships tend to meekly accept poor service at suburban malls and often defer to white customers who are invariably greeted with politeness and courtesy. Being exposed to mediocre service in our backyard is unacceptable. So we challenged the Spur manager.

Wild Spear manager Freedom Zulu politely attended to our complaint and promised better service in future.

Constant complaints by black shoppers receive scant attention from such an unlikely source as their own kind.

This perhaps lends credence to talk of the problem of a slave mentality among black waiters and shop assistants.

This is in addition to the historical problem of the first-come-first-served policy falling by the wayside at some retail shops every time decorum dictates that a black shopper be served ahead of a white customer.