Street hawkers in SA

I’m always being told to not walk around in Joburg and to keep my car window firmly closed for security.  If I adhered to this advice then I wouldn’t be able to buy from the many street and roadside vendors that there are here in SA.  These are enterprising people that sell all manner of things at the side of the road and street.  There is a lot of begging in SA, but these guys are trying to do what they can to make some money in an honest way.    I think it’s pretty admirable that they are doing something rather than nothing.  I know not everyone is lucky enough to be able to make that decision, but I think it is great that some people can help themselves using their entrepreneurial skills.  The official unemployment rate for SA is 25.7%, but this figure does not include the non-labour force who are not currently looking for work.  The figure would rise considerably if these people were counted.

The roadside vendors are mainly based at traffic lights and sell random goods to motorists.  They have armfuls of their offering, and often wear a backpack with more stock in.  The most recent items that I have seen for sale are car chargers for mobile phones, drinks and chocolates, kites to fly (it’s windy at the mo!), newspapers and Springbok shirts (there is serious World Cup fever here right now).

We have made two purchases from these guys so far – a pumice stone and a Springbok jersey (random, I know).  The pumice looks like it was chipped off a breeze block.  It cost us R10 (80p) and I bought it because, if I’m honest, I was fresh off the plane and felt sorry for the guy selling them.  Rob thought I would throw it away when I got home as it seriously does look like a piece of masonry rather than a pumice, but I used it for about 20 seconds in the shower and I’m telling you, I’ve never had such smooth feet!  Breeze block or not, it beat my Ped Egg hands down!

Rob wearing his jersey. Apparently it's a bit tight because he has massive muscles.....

The Springbok jersey is well made and less than half the price of in the shops.  It’s a good copy rather than official merchandise, but a bargain was to be had and I would rather buy a fake one from this guy then spend double the price in a shop! (I know that there are lots of arguments against this, but that’s how I felt/feel about it here in SA).

You can haggle for most things in SA, and we have had lots of practice so far, but we have just paid the asking price at the car window.  You don’t have much time before the lights turn green, and the few Rand discount that you might negotiate could help this guy out, whilst we are fortunate enough for it to not really make a difference to us.  With regards to your security, you have to go with your instinct.  If you don’t feel comfortable then don’t open your window and engage with the guys.  You can get all of these items in the shops, you will just probably have to pay a little more.  A few more Rand for piece of mind and safety is a small price to pay.  I would always suggest not showing how much money you have in your wallet/purse to the guys at the window, but then I would suggest that on the streets of London too.

The street vendors tend to sell arts and crafts – things that usually they have made themself.  Beaded and wire artwork is everywhere here, especially on 7th Street in Melville, which I live very close to.  You can’t walk up the road to a cafe/bar without at least 4 people trying to sell you their goods.  They are very beautiful and these guys are seriously talented, but I did promise Rob that I wouldn’t completely fill our house with African art work!

One thing that we did agree on is a beaded Union Jack flag.  We were walking on 7th Street and came across Simon.  He was working on a South African flag and we asked him if he could make the Union Jack for us.  He said yes and we agreed on a price, then there was slight confusion after we told him the colours and he described the American flag!  Once we were sure he knew the flag, we paid a deposit so that he could buy the beads, and he took my number to call me when it was ready.  Two days later I get a call from Simon to tell me it’s ready.  I half expected to get there and see the stars and stripes, but I needn’t have worried.  The flag even ripples like a real one would in the wind!  The flag is awesome and is now hanging in our kitchen.  You can find Simon on the corner of 7th Street and 4th Avenue seven days a week.

Simon and the flag that he made for us. This is just made from beads and wire! Impressive stuff

I can’t wait to go to the various craft markets based around Jozi.  For the last couple of weeks we have had to sort the important things like furniture, cars, phones etc, but that stuff is almost sorted so now it’s time for me to decorate!  Rob has never been more nervous.

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3 thoughts on “Street hawkers in SA

  1. Ha! I pretty much told the same story at some point in time. I was also told not to ever roll down my window, and it lasted about two days, until I saw coat hangers at the street corner, an item that had eluded me for 2 days of shopping, so I bought them. I have since even ordered whole cabinets at the street corner and have never been disappointed. I also bought a rugby shirt the other day but when I came home I had doubts about that one, as it didn’t look like a fake but the very real thing, which led me to believe that it was probably stolen… Like you say, moral dilemmas whether you should buy or not, but in the end you have to assume that most of it is honest and the can-do spirit is admirable.

    • Rob’s looks extremely real, apart from the small flag on the arm is back to front! haha. Yes, the moral dilemma is there. I’m usually a real cynic and for some reason I just see these guys out trying to make a living any which way they can without breaking the law (as far as we can tell) and I take my hat off to them. I would much rather they catch a break and I buy from them than a huge corporation where the money goes to already pretty wealthy benefactors (wealthy compared to these guys, no doubt about it). If I ever felt in doubt about it I wouldn’t go ahead with the sale, but I haven’t felt that way so far, and this is my 8th time in SA

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