Tourism goes cold as popular shisanyama, Mzoli's Place, closes its doors

Soweto venues downsizing as they too feel the effects of Covid-19 on business

HOT STUFF: A staff member prepares meat for patrons at Mzoli's Place in Gugulethu, Cape Town.
HOT STUFF: A staff member prepares meat for patrons at Mzoli's Place in Gugulethu, Cape Town.
Image: Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Cape Town's iconic township eatery where people from different walks of life used to mingle over braai’d meat and pap, Mzoli’s Place in Gugulethu, has shut down indefinitely, in part because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This Cape Town shisanyama was the heart of the township and an incredible attraction for international visitors and locals alike.

Sisanda Mangele, the daughter of businessman and philanthropist Mzoli Ngcawuzele, said she was not sure if the business will open again.

“It’s a lot of things, from physical safety to the state of the economy and restrictions of the pandemic. It’s not really the end of the journey because we are still assessing if it’s worth the risk. We are waiting to see if tourism will get back on its feet. If not we might have to let go completely,” Mangele said.

In early 2018, angry protesters set a car alight in front of the butchery as well as two ATMs. Shops in the vicinity were looted when dwellers attempted to occupy the land.  

She said they have had increasing safety concerns in the area. At some point, Mangele was kidnapped.

The industry has struggled to survive, with many having to downsize their staff or close doors.

Chaf Pozi, the upmarket Soweto eatery on Vilakazi Street, used to attract hundreds of tourists and local people but of late has seen a major decline.

Zama Zwane, manager at Chaf Pozi, said they are living hand to mouth.

“Things are so bad, it just doesn’t get better. We can’t afford a lot of our bills and rent is also an issue. Paying salaries has become a struggle and the sector doesn’t support us,” Zwane said.

The shebeen-style restaurant offers an authentic township experience, something scores of tourists used to enjoy.

“Without an influx of tourists, we have no business at all. Local people used to come and enjoy themselves too, but now they simply order food and go home. People don’t appreciate the sit-down experience any more, which makes things hard,” Zwane said.

When restaurants like these, situated in tourism hubs, suffer, so do the tour bus and travel industry. The two complement each other.

Anthony Colia of MoAfrika Tours, one of the leading providers of Safari and city tours, said the pandemic feels like someone has switched off their light.

“On average I used to cater for 150 clients for both safari and city tours per day. Right now I average on 50 people a month. I used to have a staff complement of 40, I now work with one.

“I had 20 vehicles to run my business, I sold about eight. I want to complain but most of my competition shut down, there’s simply not enough to go by,” Colia said.

He said that from the beginning of this year, he has seen a slight increase in customers.

“My business is not geared for local travel; I deal specifically with international people. Truth is local people are not interested in these kinds of trips. It’s been such a mess, luckily I had some savings,” Colia added.

MoAfrika does tours in Soweto, Kruger National Park, Cape Town, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya and other tourist attractions.

Solly Phalade, spokesperson for Phillipians4Four Travel & Tours, echoed the sentiments of Colia.

“We used to be fully booked every day but right now we are lucky if we have a busy day. Things have dramatically changed.  We used to cater to 200 to 250 people a month. There was a period where we had absolutely nothing coming through. This meant that salaries became a struggle.

“We hope things will get better,” Phalade said.

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