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KwaMai Mai is a new trending spot for Millennials

Kwa Mai Mai market in Johannesburg. Picture: Cebiisile Mbonani

By Cebisile Mbonani

It's mid-morning at Kwa Mai Mai, the oldest traditional medicine market in Johannesburg. It is known as a place to find traditional healers, African beats attires, and street food for taxi drivers. Taxis line up after a morning rush, outside the gate; smoke rises up from braai stands, car washes by individuals from every corner, and men are standing in groups.

It is a busy morning in downtown Johannesburg, corner of End and Anderson streets. As you enter the yard of Kwa Mai Mai, you will notice informal food stalls and dining set up with steel tables and plastic chairs ready for dining. Each casual food stall has mostly women wearing African mud sunscreen to protect their skin from the harsh sun. They are busy scraping pots with food from last night, washing dishes, preparing meat, and setting up a fire to cook pap.

Zanele Mtambo (35) shouts, "Woza sisi wami ngikuhosele inyama yakho," (Come my sister, I will cook your meat for you).

Frame 1: Zanele Mtambo (35) braai meat for customers at Kwa Mai Mai. Picture: Cebiisile Mbonani
Zanele Mtambo (35) braais meat for customers at Kwa Mai Mai. Picture: Cebiisile Mbonani

Mtambo has been preparing food, braaing meat, and serving the customers at KwaMai Mai since 2015, her workday starts at 6 am. Mtambo and the women around her are discussing the day before. It was a Sunday.

“Kuze kwaba yintatha kusa simile ngezinyawa. Beku gwele, besingakwazi noku hamba siye ematafuleni (we were on our feet until dawn. It was so full, we couldn't even go to the food table)”, said Mtambo.

The women had no idea that their beloved workplace had over the weekend been a trending topic.

Since the end of the lockdown, the market has transitioned to the next go-to spot for Millennials. Every Friday to Sunday, the space is filled with Millennials who visit for food, alcohol, or to hang out. Some of them think the market needs to change how it is set up and how they serve food. A debate between KwaMai Mai regular visitors and new incomers on Twitter over whether the market needs to change how it serves food.

Outside the gate, KwaMai Mai, you can buy inyama yenhloko that is head meat, served on a long metal table. While inside, it's mostly braai meat such as beef cuts, wors, and ox liver served in platter style with uphuthu (also known as krummel pap), sliced tomato, and fresh chilli. Meat is served on a long straight cut wood, and the sides, uphuthu, are served on a plastic plate.

Braai meat at Kwa Mai Mai served on cut wood. Picture: Cebisile Mbonani
Braai meat at Kwa Mai Mai served on cut wood. Picture: Cebisile Mbonani

One Twitter user, Ofentse_MJ, replied "They should up their standards then, since they are receiving different crowd now, they are running a business, so they should cater for everyone."

“They must buy plates or trays,” said twitter user MmaDitsela_ .

Twitter user Aries_outcast, said “If eating on top of isvalo seWardrobe (wardrobe lid) is a problem for them. They should go to their fancy restaurant & live Mai Mai alone.”

Many people on social media feel like the newcomers want to gentrify the establishment, just like neighbouring locations such as Maboneng. Gentrification, a process of turning poor urban areas into wealthy and new business attractions, with more affluent people moving in and the character of the regions being modernised.

"The Kwa Mai Mai Mamas have been serving their patrons braaied meat for years, without all this drama. Then your little skrr-skrrs want to turn it into Tashas. You will be served food mo lebating la wardrobe ya Joshua Door, okay Kyle? Quite frankly, their meat slaps, awuthule (shut up)!" said a tweet, Kgosigadi.

Another Twitter user, YourBoy_KG, “You all aren't fair on Mai Mai. Those folks were just minding their business, making food for the drivers and the lads working in the surrounding areas till you all made it a thing. Now you're roasting them and comparing them with fully-fledged restaurants."

For those who work at the market, there is no need to change anything.

Mtambo said having more young people in the establishment is good for business. More people are buying plates that cost between R100 - R120.

“It is impossible to start serving food on the plate. Once they're drunk, they will break the plates. Besides, this place is like a village, and this is a norm for our villages to serve food like this.” said Mtambo.

Funani Thembi Mgaga who took over her mother's stall in 1996, which sells traditional attire, beats, and traditional medicine, is happy to see more young people from different backgrounds but is concerned with how full is gets from Friday. “From Friday to Sunday at noon, the establishment is so packed with young people we can't leave our stalls or access the gate.”

A frequent visitor to KwaiMai Mai, Nhlanathi Mcunu (23), a taxi driver, agrees. He goes to the market once or twice a week. “Celebrities Maskandi celebrities and cheap food changed this place. People now come here to see Maskandi celebrities, and the meat is cheap.” said Mcunu.


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