BYE-BYE TO HISTORY
"WOZA, makoti, woza, banana shibhile lapha! Only 10 pence a dozen, woza ..."
The words rang out from all directions at the Early Morning Market in Durban as each stall holder, mostly Indian women in saris, coaxed customers to buy fruits and vegetables.
The words were familiar throughout my early teens as a spindly-legged boy accompanying my mother to buy vegetables and fruit on Saturdays way back in the 1960s.
The market acquired its name in recent years, though back then and throughout the 70's and 80's, it was referred to as the Indian Market or the Victoria Street Market. With the advent of a new South Africa, the Indian tag fell away in keeping with the new culture of political correctness.
Deciding from which stall to eventually buy was not an easy choice to make, what with so many vendors vying for the business of hundreds of women and men snaking their way along the aisles dividing the many stalls.
The market had one huge entrance from which you would meander from the left and exit on the right, following a route very much like the shape of a horse shoe.
What I noticed each time my mother entered the market is that she never bought anything from the front stalls. This seemed to be the norm with many customers.
I always pitied the owners of those stalls because no matter how much they screamed their "woza makoti", my mother would turn a blind eye and proceed to the inner stalls, hoping to find a deal better than the 10-pence-a-dozen proffered at the entrance.
Yes, a dozen bananas for 10 pence (10cents equivalent) was not an unusual price.
Today, Durban street vendors sell bananas for roughly R1,50 each. Supermarkets charge even more.
Beats me even today how my old lady made her final choice in that maze of stalls.
But the widely held view was that stall holders who burnt incense usually attracted more customers since the lucky charm (woza woza) lured customers by the scores. Indeed, a burning incense stuck onto a potato or an orange was not an unusual sight.
Close to the incense would be a photo of a deity or a deceased relative.
With each purchase, our shopping basket grew heavier and heavier. So heavy that I would occasionally put it down to rest for a while. At one point I must have rested for too long because when I looked up my mother had disappeared.
Inside the market the heat soared to a searing 30 degrees Celsius. I prayed that I would find her, which I did, but she was not too happy with me, it seems. What came out of her mouth was very un-heavenly.
"Uvelaphi (Where have you been) you rubbish?" she breathed fire, taking a swipe at my head with her handbag at the same time. But she missed, only to hit another woman. She apologised.
Turning to me, she screamed: "Khanda'khulu! Uzolahleka uma ulele." (Big head! You'll get lost if you're sleeping).
Beside fruit and vegetables, there would be fowls and fresh fish, usually caught the night before. If my family needed to slaughter a fowl for a cultural ritual, we knew where to find it.
Flowers were bound in bunches and placed in buckets half-filled with water.
The buckets were then placed on a structure going up like a staircase. My mother always bought flowers, which she would give me to carry. Bees love flowers. When bees appeared, I moved away quickly because I feared their sting.
As is always true of Indian business areas, they would be incomplete without samoosas, murkoo and and sweetmeats - all freshly cooked, and peanuts, of course. My mother knew my addiction to peanuts and she always obliged, albeit reluctantly.
As a nurse she thought too much oil was used in cooking the peanuts.
Because I was nuts about nuts, I always looked forward to the twice-a-month trips.
My mother just relished a steak and kidney pie, which she would buy, with two cans of cool drink.
Much later, a secondary market emerged in the precincts of the Early Morning Market. This new section closed later than the market, which shut its doors at 5pm.
Traders in this other market were predominantly African. They sold pretty much the same goods as they did at the main market.
Their makeshift shelters and stalls were made of wood and cardboard.
So busy was this new after-hours market that the eThekwini municipality found it necessary to erect a proper shelter with stalls similar to those inside the Early Morning Market.
The advantage of this market was that you could buy stuff 24/7 as traders slept there. One bought fruit and vegetables as late as 10pm.
The current stand-off between the eThekwini municipality, who want to demolish the market to make way for a R400million development, and the traders who are opposed to the move, appears to have united Indian and African traders.
It must be stated, though, that the unity is tenuous and has been precipitated only by the situation.
Those opposed to the move want the long history of the market, including its architecture, to be preserved.
Rumour has it, though, that a number of traders in the secondary market actually work for stall owners in the main market, the majority of whom are Indian.
So, the controversy surrounding the planned closure of the Early Morning Market is mired in that dynamic as well.
The eThekwini municipality had planned to have the market closed on July 31 so demolition could start, but the traders won a high court stay of execution last week.
The historical role played by the Early Morning Market in the development of Greater Durban cannot be over-emphasised.
But nothing stays the same forever. Change is inevitable, and when it does beckon, a great landmark of the city is bound to change forever.
But nothing will ever erase the memories of frenetic haggling that was so characteristic of the daily business inside the market.
Not least the familiar rant of an Indian woman in a sari: "Woza, makoti, woza, banana shibhile lapha!"