Wi-Fi Revolution

I didn’t give much thought to internet access when I lived in the United States. American broadband internet is cheap and easy to get. Just about every home has it. And as far as I know, internet in the United States is always unlimited.

I had never heard of a “data cap” before moving to South Africa. I didn’t think of internet use as “data”, and didn’t realize it could be “capped”. But in South Africa, most internet plans come with a data cap. You pay for a certain number of gigs (gigabytes) of data per month, and when those gigs run out, you pay more. The more YouTube videos you watch, the more photos you download, the more skype calls you make, the more gigs you use.

Internet connections here can be painfully slow. To get a faster connection, you pay more. What’s worse, sometimes you pay more for a faster connection but your internet is still slow. Or doesn’t work at all. And good luck getting Telkom to do anything about it.

I could whine more, but this is getting boring. Suffice it to say that internet access is not to be taken for granted in South Africa.

The Lucky 5 Star used to have an unlimited, super-fast (for South Africa, at least) ADSL line, because Jon needed it for work. Not anymore though. (Sniff.) A couple of months ago I was forced to join the ranks of South Africa’s internet-deprived.

Fortunately I live in Melville, where if you’re willing to fork out R15 for a cup of coffee or tea, you can enjoy free unlimited internet along with great atmosphere and pleasant company.

Moroccan coffee at the IT Corner.

There are at least four or five Melville establishments – restaurants, bars, and coffee shops – offering free wireless internet to their customers. Two of them are particularly awesome. Each of the two places has its own unique perks; I have a hard time deciding which one to go to. I’ve been spending copious amounts of time at both.

At the intersection of 4th Avenue and 7th Street is the IT Corner, utilitarian name for a utilitarian-looking internet café. But don’t let the name or the appearance deceive you.

Inside the IT Corner.

The IT Corner is an internet café, a restaurant, a coffee/tea house, and a full-service computer repair shop all rolled into one. If you have an IT problem, odds are good that Kader, the owner, can solve it for you. But the IT Corner is also great for lunch (I recommend the chicken sandwich) or a chat with a friend over a pot of delicious mint tea. (Kader is Algerian — the IT Corner specializes in North African-style coffee and tea.)

A small pot of Moroccan mint tea, and an internet voucher. These pots appear small, but they contain enough tea to sip for hours and they stay hot forever. A pot costs R17 (about $2), a small price to pay for a couple hours of speedy internet. Internet access is free — you just have to ask for a new voucher every hour. 

My other favorite Melville wi-fi hotspot is Love & Revolution. L&R, which recently moved to a new space on 7th Street near 3rd Avenue,  has an eclectic, anti-establishment vibe.

Everyone is welcome at L&R, except for ageists, biggots, classists, homophobes, racists, and sexists. (See the sign on the wall.) If you are one of those things, you probably won’t like L&R anyway.

Like the IT Corner, L&R serves a variety of purposes: internet café, alternative bookshop, vegetarian restaurant, yoga studio (that’s right, there’s a yoga studio on the second floor), and all-around cool place to hang out.

Books for sale at L&R. I’ve never seen anybody buying one, but looking at them makes the customers feel smart.

Homespun earrings available for R15 a pair. I actually did buy a pair of these.

L&R has two secret weapons that keep me coming back. 1) The coal-burning stove:

Is this not the most beautiful stove you have ever seen? I love sitting in front of it on chilly, rainy afternoons.

2) The Lakhani Special:

The Lakhani Special is the most delicious grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever tasted. The ingredient that makes it so delicious is cilantro (called coriander or dhania in SA). Cilantro in a sandwich: genius. I believe the Lakhani Special costs R35 ($4.50).

IT Corner has the edge in internet speed, size, and IT services offered. L&R has the edge in atmosphere, and it has the Lakhani Special. But really, unless you’re a bigoted homophobe who doesn’t go online and doesn’t like hot drinks, you can’t go wrong at either place.

I haven’t mentioned the best thing about L&R and the IT Corner: the people who work there.  They’re all friendly and helpful, and they’ll let you hang out as long as you want without pressuring you to keep buying food and drink. (That said, please don’t take advantage of their hospitality and spend an entire afternoon downloading movies while drinking one can of Coke. If everyone did that, how would these lovely businesses stay open?)

Thando and Kendall, staff members at L&R. I love them.

My only complaint about L&R and the IT Corner is that I’m not saving much money on internet use by going there. I drink too much mint tea and eat too many Lakhani Specials. It beats sitting at home like a computer hermit though. Check these places out if you get the chance.

Note: Love and Revolution closed down after this post was published (sniff).

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  • Reply chuckv88 May 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    You should check out my post called ‘The great South African broadband gang bang.’

    • Reply 2summers May 2, 2012 at 1:12 pm

      Ooh, sounds good. I will.

  • Reply landofnams May 2, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    You free for a coffee this afternoon? We are both in town and I am with car today. Also, Dhania is the Hindi/Urdu word for cilantro and I’m assuming that is why South Africans use it.

    • Reply 2summers May 2, 2012 at 1:30 pm

      Hey, yes I’m free. I don’t have a car though. Could meet at either of the above :)

  • Reply Owls May 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    This reminds me so much of my first few weeks in Buenos Aires. Desperately trying to keep in touch with the Northern Hemisphere and trying to get used to a Spanish-language keyboard. The internet cafes were quite strict on time limit back then. Perhaps that has changed. When we found a place to live we had to use phone modem for the laptop. Hence not a lot of time on the computer.

    • Reply 2summers May 2, 2012 at 2:44 pm

      Yep. You don’t realize how fortunate the US is in terms of internet until you leave!

  • Reply Jackie May 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    the price of broadband story should change one day soon – with the landing of new sea cables and stiffer competition amongst the players … but saying that .. we have always been ripped off here .. my telkom landline/adsl went down two weeks ago – oi oi oi – do you think I can get through and get an answer … thank you Eskom for digging up the cables outside

    • Reply 2summers May 2, 2012 at 2:44 pm

      Haha! I can relate to the digging up of cables too.

  • Reply 1cruzdelsur May 2, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    With your pictures and the coal stove, it is nice and wake my appetite in a cold morning in Buenos Aires.

    • Reply 2summers May 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm

      Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed them.

  • Reply Lu May 2, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    I’ve eventually settled for a 3G wireless hub with (allegedly) uncapped data limit. There is however a fair play policy which slows the speed of the connection when you reach 3Gb. (I know we’ve gone over the limit – but I can’t say I’ve noticed a difference in speed!! 😉 )
    We don’t have a landline telephone or adsl installed so no cable worries, but the signal can be a bit slow at certain times of the day, regardless.

    • Reply 2summers May 2, 2012 at 3:18 pm

      Wow, I didn’t know there was such thing as uncapped 3G wireless. There are so many different combinations!

  • Reply group travel planners May 2, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    you know the south Africa is not a developed country so internet plans are so costly

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough May 3, 2012 at 1:16 am

    God, can I empathize. In Haiti slow internet was the bane of my existence and the reason I rarely posted photos during the first 6 months I blogged. Glad you have some good cafe options. And I agree, that stove is stunning.

    Great post, Heather.


    • Reply 2summers May 3, 2012 at 9:59 am

      Yep, internet access is definitely one of the downsides to living in the developing world. But it’s just part of the deal, I guess.

  • Reply tomorrowslices May 3, 2012 at 3:49 am

    Ha! – the joys of Telkom – you haven’t REALLY lived in SA until you have a Telkom story! Definitely one of the things I DON’T miss – that was until we encountered China Telecom….then our cry became: “Telkom – were you really so bad?” At least we could rant at someone in English…..
    But at least you’ve had the opportunity to explore more of the neighbourhood and support more local business :)

    • Reply 2summers May 3, 2012 at 9:58 am

      Very true about supporting local business. I can’t imagine having to deal with Telkom in Chinese!

      • Reply tomorrowslices May 3, 2012 at 10:23 am

        How are you Zulu-speaking skills coming along????

        • Reply 2summers May 3, 2012 at 11:02 am

          Sawbona! That’s about all I know :)

  • Reply Yashik Nanan May 3, 2012 at 4:41 am

    Hi Heather,

    awesome photos!
    those two joints look absolutely wicked.

    and yup, we’ve all had our gripes with broadband in SA.

    mweb, i see, is offering “uncapped” broadband at under R200. Of course, the speed isn’t amazing, but it’s better than dialup. but then, you’d have to make your own dhania sandwiches!

    • Reply 2summers May 3, 2012 at 9:57 am

      I’ve thought about making myself a dhania sandwich at home. But somehow I know that it just one’t be the same.

  • Reply sohan May 3, 2012 at 6:58 am

    really cool pictures…writing is superb as usual…grtt Heather

  • Reply Spiral Dreamer (Francis) May 3, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Those places are always amazing to discover and I loved to spend time in some L&R type of establishment when I visit the cities. Am a lucky one to have a very high speed internet connection using fiber optic and close to a terabyte cap which is impossible to reach by any regular user of the internet.
    Thank you for taking us on another guided tour. :)

    • Reply 2summers May 3, 2012 at 3:44 pm

      Thanks Francis. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I think you would fit right in at Love & Revolution :)

  • Reply Edwin Oak May 3, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Amazing. Great commentary and photography. I feel so informed and cultured!

    • Reply 2summers May 3, 2012 at 3:22 pm

      Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it.

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