Market day, widely known as the day that you shop until you are literally so exhausted you drop, was how we spent our day in Cape Town today. The interesting thing about it all was how much we learned through our retail experiences and how different each handicraft was from the other. Between asking each proprietor or owner their background, to how the pieces they offer are made, and where they come from, we acquired quite a bit of knowledge on South African, as well as African entrepreneurship.
The first market we went to was the Green Market Square. It was here that I spoke to a woman named Beauty and she was originally from Kenya. I asked her about the items she was selling, which mainly consisted of dolls and beaded animals, and questioned her on how they were made and by whom. She told me that her mother used to make them for her as a child to play with and from there on they began to sell them and make them together. Beauty spoke English beautifully, however, her brother did not. Clearly the family run business had some kinks to work out because when I asked him some questions it was hard for him to understand me – which isn’t very good business. Thankfully, Beauty shared with me the fact that the dolls they made and sold were Zulu dolls that ranged from bigger dolls that were the grandmothers, all the way to the smaller dolls, selling for 50 rand, that were the grandchildren. When I asked her if she enjoyed Cape Town more than Kenya, she replied with a strong “no.” She misses Kenya and would go back as soon as she can. She mentioned that there is nothing like home, and the family is only in Cape Town for the sales from the tourists and for business ventures. Unfortunately, she shared that business is slow in the wintertime as tourism dies down, but luckily we befriended each other and she was able to make a purchase out of me. With rent being R400 a month, it was the least I could do to help out her and her family.
Next, we went to the Pan-African Market. This market was extremely interesting because it was indoors in a 3-story building filled with small shops from all types of people. This is the market where you can buy handmade or mass made goods from people all over Africa. We did not have much time here but I was able to check out a few of the shops and see what types of goods ranged from each stall. The first one I entered had hand made jewelry from countries all over Africa. The stones and beads were beautifully made, but the owner was strict on his prices. As an amateur at bargaining, I made it a point to learn how to reduce prices therefore, I moved on to the next shop.
An older woman named Rochelle owned the next shop I went to. She was also from Kenya but had handicrafts from South Africa, Cameroon and of course Kenya. She mentioned that she also missed home and travels back in the wintertime when she can. I asked her why she doesn’t sell her crafts in the Green Market Square and she told me that it was because it is very hard to get a spot in that market since the people who have stands there have had them for many, many years and do not tend to leave since the tourist attraction is so high. It makes it hard for her to be able to sell her goods at the Pan-African market, but she also said that the summer time is worth it.
An interesting fact that I learned was how much more expensive the rent was at the Pan-African market than the Green Market Square. Rochelle pays R 1,500, whereas Beauty only pays R 400 a month for rent. The difference is substantial, and the location is less ideal for Rochelle than it is for Beauty. I think the reason that the price may be higher is because they might be more authentically made gifts and handicrafts than the ones in the first market where some owners mentioned that they were mass-produced in other parts of Cape Town (Western Cape).
The last market that I spent time talking to an owner was at the Blue Shed market on the V & A Waterfront. By no means was this the last market we went to (we actually visited 5 today), but I spent a lot of time with this one woman at the shop she worked at. She did not own the stand in this market; rather, she was hired to work for the owner, Carol. This stand offered home goods made out of crushed ostrich eggshells so that the pieces looked abstract with a touch of modern.
Although they were priced a bit higher, since the Blue Shed market included stores that had pricier goods, the story behind Carol’s business was pretty neat. They work with only single mothers who purchase ostrich eggs to clean and scrub in order to make these pieces for homes. The process is long and tedious, but the outcome is like artwork – truly beautiful.
The woman who worked at the store said she was a single mother who used to work at the market but the store where she was once employed closed down and Carol offered her a job. Although she doesn’t make the items, she said that 22 other single mothers did and that she takes care of the selling side of the business. With items from mirrors, salt shakers, bowls, and vases, to dog bowls, and stationary, the store was quite large and full of character. Rent at the Blue Shed is much more expensive, ranging anywhere from R 8-10,000. Luckily, with higher prices, many of the stores remain sustainable with many profits coming from tourists.
After spending much time talking to this woman, we geared away from business and started talking about her personal life and her kids. She said that she enjoyed American television shows such as Bones and The Amazing Race, while her kids watched Dragon Ball Z. Although they seemed like a normal family, she mentioned that they have no Internet in their home and that she hardly knows how to work a computer. I joked and told her neither does my mother, but I could tell she was eager in learning how, she just doesn’t have the resources to do so. This really showed the true differences there are even in the “middle class” of South Africa compared to the middle class in America. It can be something as simple as Internet, but it is something that some of these individuals strive for that we take for granted.