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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