Shopping malls are very big in South Africa, both literally and figuratively. For some sections of the population, they are truly the only place to shop. And that is all kinds of shopping: fashion and homeware as well as the weekly food shop, as they are home to all the major supermarkets, from (curiously) Woolworths at the luxury end down to Pick’n Pay at the budget. Apart from in the malls, there are plenty of other shops which call themselves supermarkets – eight on the short trip to our local swimming pool, along run-down Jules Street – but they are what we would call corner shops, and fairly wretched ones at that, with food on pallets and a lockable gate at the door; that is where the majority of the poorer black population does its shopping.
There are black people in the malls, but apart from the relatively small (though growing) black middle class, they tend to be the people working there – shop assistants, waiting staff, security guards.
Malls are also leisure venues, containing cinemas and private gyms. Most have an area open to the sky, with a children’s play area fringed by restaurants of all kinds – Italian, Indian, Mexican, Portuguese, Greek, Chinese… all staffed by black people. There will frequently be a hotel attached, and along with the other Stowe teachers who came last February, it was in one of these that I was booked. Apart from when we were in a car or inside the school gates, the mall was pretty much the only place we saw.
For mall goers, there is no concept of walking to the shops – it’s always a drive. The trick is to work out which multi-storey car parks gets you closest to your preferred shopping destination. And after transporting your purchases to your car, staff tether together huge trains of trolleys and return them to their respective stores, often maneuvering them by hand, sometimes using golf buggies or small tractors.
Note – this will be our last posting for a few days. We are taking advantage of the school being closed for a long weekend to visit the South African battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal (or KZN as it’s known here), so the blog will be on holiday too. More news upon our return.