It’s Day 75 of the South African lockdown. People are hustling out there.

From its earliest beginnings, Joburg has been a city of hustlers. No one is going to make your way for you in this town, unless you’re a member of the very privileged few. People work hard in Jozi, often on several jobs at once.

Now that we’ve hit Level 3 of the lockdown, Joburgers are hustling harder than ever.

Mbali hustling in her food stall
Mbali is hustling.

The Underbridge Chef

I met Mbali Ndlovu on the first day I went to take photos of the Melville Food Parcel Program, when South Africa was still under Lockdown Level 4. Mbali is one of the program’s volunteers.

Last week Mbali asked if I would come take photos at her food trailer, where she sells take-away meals just outside Milpark Hospital. Her bright yellow trailer stands beside the bridge where Barry Hertzog Avenue passes over Napier Road. So Mbali calls herself the Underbridge Chef.

The Underbridge Chef trailer
Man outside Mbali's food trailer
Menu at the Underbridge Chef

Mbali is 35 years old and originally comes from KwaZulu-Natal. She lives in Milpark and has an 11-year-old son. Mbali has worked many cooking jobs, the most recent of which was at a Spar grocery store in Bryanston. To get to that job she had to take two taxis — one from Milpark to downtown Joburg and another from downtown Joburg to Bryanston. She worked from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

After Mbali lost that Spar job, she decided to take a big risk and go into business for herself. She found a food trailer and procured a permit to sell outside the hospital.

Mbali opened her business in March, just as COVID-19 arrived in South Africa, and was almost immediately forced to shut down for two months. She tried applying for various types government relief, including food aid, but never received anything. Finally she found out about the Melville food parcels and was able to get one. She also signed up with the program as a volunteer.

Mbali was able to restart her business last week, but she’s still volunteering with the food program every Thursday.

Mbali in her trailer
Inside the trailer. After shopping for food early in the morning, Mbali arrives at her spot every day at 8:00 a.m. to start cooking.
Mbali's chicken
Chicken.
Mbali chakalaka
Spicy relish. Be warned: This sauce is hot.
Mbali and rolls
Rolls, which Mbali bakes herself every evening after she gets home.

I bought lunch from Mbali today: beef stew, pap, morogo, and salad for R35 ($2). It was an absolute feast and I’m still full four hours later.

Lunch from Mbali
My lunch.

Go buy lunch from Mbali if you’re in the area. Her yellow trailer is on Napier Road, between Barry Hertzog and Milpark Hospital, every weekday. Her number is 073-905-6985.

Chris the Lockdown Bread Baker

As I mentioned briefly in a previous post, my neighbor Chris Green has started an artisan bread-baking business under lockdown.

Chris and his lockdown bread-baking oven.
Chris and his grass-roots baking operation.

Chris normally works as a guide for international tourists, mostly in game parks outside of Gauteng province. His wife, Penny, is a bassoonist for the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Like so many South Africans, Chris and Penny have found themselves completely out of work for the foreseeable future — no end in sight.

Luckily Chris has a hand-crafted pizza oven in the backyard, and decades of experience baking artisan-quality bread loaves. He bakes the bread in big iron pots, just a couple of loaves at a time, and it’s the best bread I’ve ever eaten. Each loaf is an edible work of art.

Artisan bread

To order bread from Chris, contact him at 082-491-9370 or chriscashan@gmail.com.

Eenblond on Fire

My friend Gilda Swanepoel also has an interesting lockdown hustle. Gilda normally does walking tours in Soweto, also with mostly international tourists, and has had no work since the pandemic hit. So she started a side business selling firewood.

If you know Gilda then you’ll understand how perfect this name is. “Eenblond” means “a blonde” in Afrikaans.

I don’t have a wood-burning fireplace and hence no need for wood. But if I did need it I would call Gilda. Now is the time to do so because it’s about to get very, very cold in Joburg.

Gilda is based in the Melville-Westdene area. Contact her at 082-472-6414.

Keep hustling, Joburgers. Until tomorrow.

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