May 2014

Growing up life was simple; it was black and white.

Take food – today we have an abundance of choice from taste, culinary verve to dinning experiences to which one must take an evening jacket – when we were kids there was only “home food” and eating out.

Eating out meant a fast food treat. Even that was simple – there was fast food for blacks, like Chicken Licken and there was was fast food for whites, like KFC.

I knew this because Sdumo told us “Sgud s’nasi”. And because I used to walked by the KFC on Smal Street and gaze at the pale faces seated at tables eating their chicken on plates with utensils. It was nothing like the scruffy congested lines at the Chicken Licken behind Shell House where mom worked.

On the rare occasion that she acceded to my demands to get into this line, we milled about until our grease-dripping styrofoam boxes came from behind bullet-proof windows.

I took me a long time to de-racialize food being handed through a window. Because today it’s not about race right? It’s about choice. And economics.

Or is it?

I was shocked when I heard Chicken Licken hasn’t been given space at Sandton City because it would potentially bring in “Criminals” or other such undesirables.

I’m not sure how Sandton worked out that the people who buy over R 1,5b worth of hot wings and burgers every year are all criminals.

Whilst it is tempting to debate the modalities of market segmentation and the like, trying to prove the correlation between Sandton shoppers and Chicken Licken eaters, or to just out and out pull the race card, I want to share a story instead.

A few years ago whilst seated in Sandton’s food court starring into space as writers are known to do, a little man sat down at the table directly in my line of sight. He was a work man, one of the many construction crews that were busy with a much heralded revamp in one corner of the mall.

His body language betrayed him to be feeling as out of place as he looked in his dusty overalls in the midst of skinny jeans and big belly sheathing polo shirts.

In his hand he had a package of clear plastic bags from which he pulled a half-loaf of bread and polony.

I found it ironic that here in a food court that caters for virtually every taste, this man couldn’t find the sort of food that he could afford.

Having seen him I wondered where the other workmen were eating. It dawned on me – all of these workmen all of the place, they must eat too right? Months later I discovered they “preferred” to go outside to the curb where the caravans that make pap and vleis are parked – right next door to the bus-stop that only caters for 10 but has queues of up to 60 people snaking around it every evening.

It became clear to me that Sandton City, is not meant for this group of people. The workers, the cleaners – the invisibles. Sandton is exclusive on the basis of economic demographics.

But how nuts is it that a market segment that is ever present – I mean they work there and likely outnumber shoppers 3 : 1 – aren’t catered for within the confines of the area in which they work?

For years government has been speaking about breaking down spatial divides that our Apartheid legacy has bequeathed us, and yet here, in the complexes where we spend our days, these divides are reinforced.

One of the problems with this that SA has since the 1800s excluded blacks from the economy. And so divisions on the basis of economics today is inherently racist.

The other problem is that we don’t see that. We find it acceptable that the notions of Apart-ness can today, 20 years after Freedom still be allowed to thrive.

Apartness, them, us, the undesirables, that was the very essence of Apartheid.

Yeah, I’m using the A word, because for too long it has hidden behind C words like Criminals meaning Cleaners and B words like Broke meaning Black.

2 thoughts on “When Sandton called Hot Wing Lovers Crooks

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