By Anathi Nyadu
There are litanies of myths swirling around in South Africa, especially about the youth’s laziness and sense of entitlement.
Those who perpetuate these myths point their fingers at the drunk and drowsy youth leaning next to the many my friend’sshops all over South African townships, the long-long lines at post-offices around the country dishing out what has come to be known as “Ramaphosa’s R350s”, and the burgeoning statistics about teenage pregnancy.
Once when I was a young man, so young in fact I cannot even recall with certainty how young I was, I sold potatoes, tomatoes, and other items that you can find in a fruits and vegetables stall. I only remember, with certainty, the two that I have mentioned because to this day I love me some potato chips and nothing beats the taste of raw tomatoes and salt.
My stall – I say my stall because the person I sold these things for disappeared into the myriad streets of Kimberley never to be seen again – was at corner Corless Road and Finlayson Road. Those who are familiar with Kimberley and its streets will know that Corless Road used to be a buzzing business centre back in the day, servicing the surrounding townships.
Too often, one would also bump into white people from Kimberley’s suburbs at Wookey’s Fabric store, so I felt like a proper businessperson when I took out my wares in the morning and smiled brightly whenever a customer approached – even if they were merely enquiring about the prices of my goods.
When they left, I was hopeful that one day they will buy something, and my business will grow to compete with those that lined Corless Road – Salam, Wholesalers, and the one that sold meat and the one that sold milk.
I do not know how long that business lasted or what led to its demise. I speculate that the lack of customers and the rotting nature of the goods I sold led to its unfortunate tumble, but the idea of being a businessman never left me.
It rekindled itself almost naturally again in 2012. I was doing grade 12 then and one of my side hustles was stocking beers for an old friend, who was running a shebeen in one of the townships in Galeshewe. It was during the time of the Gariep Arts Festival when I saw an opportunity.
During a festival, or festivities such as Christmas and Easter, Kimberley folks make sure that they have a time that they will never forget, even though they forget it the next day when they wake up from their drunken stupor.
Where I lived, we did not have a shebeen that sold beers. All of the shebeens sold the kind of beers you may read about in novels and memoirs written in the 1950s or those from the year 2020 when the government decided to defy Can Themba’s call to “Let The People Drink!”. That is when the idea of being a shebeen king, if you like, struck me.
It was a genius idea, and I recognised it immediately. The queue at the bottle store, where I was stocking for a friend, snaked its way out of its door and spread into the streets like a disease. Outside, cars of all sorts could be found. Important people and not-so-important people obediently and patiently lined together like cattle at a drinking hole.
There was only one problem, I realised. I did not have the capital to bring this genius idea to life – and no benefactor either. I could never think of broaching this subject with my adoptive mother who was not only a teetotaler but a churchgoer and as strict as mothers come. The next year, I went to university. There, again, I saw an opportunity – I noticed that some of the students dealt with life’s problems and academic stress, as they like to say, by smoking cigarettes.
I was not a smoker, but I could sympathise with my peers and how they felt when they needed a smoke, but the student café was closed while the nearest garage was outside the university grounds and dangers unbeknownst to them lay out there and they needed a fix.
So, like our very own former minister of transport, I decided to call myself, Mr Fix-it. I fixed the lack of access that prevented my friends from addressing their uncontrollable cravings.
The cigarette industry is a very lucrative business that even though the product comes with a warning of a long list of health issues, those who are its clients will buy it, regardless. So lucrative: it is even claimed in some quarters that illicit trade in cigarette is responsible for the registration of one of the parties we today find in our parliament.
My venture into cigarette selling was not that lucrative, though. It was small-scale, and all the cigarettes I sold were legit stuff bought at Pick n Pay. YC
Editing by Gaby Ndongo. Feature image by Ann H.
Anathi Nyadu is a journalism lecturer at the University of the Free State and writer with over half a decade of experience.