Many of you may remember my post about the African Accent Spaza Shop in Katlehong, which I visited for the first time in June.

Heather at African Accent in Katlehong
My first time at the African Accent Spaza Shop. (Photo: Nkosikhona Kumalo)

I’ve kept going back, for various reasons. Every time I go I wind up spending hours sitting outside the spaza shop, chatting with my friends Bongani and Nkosikhona about anything and everything. At some point the three of us started talking about organizing a tour.

I’m pleased to announce it’s actually happening: The first Katlehong and Thokoza Spaza Shop Tour is scheduled for Saturday, October 3rd. [UPDATE: The first #SpazaShopTour was a smashing success. Click here to sign up for the second-ever tour on October 17th.)

Spaza Shop Tour logo

Katlehong, one of South Africa’s largest townships with about half a million people, has a fascinating history. Many South Africans (and people who have seen The Bang-Bang Club) know Katlehong — together with Thokoza, its next-door neighbor — as the site of intense fighting between African National Congress (ANC) and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) supporters in the 1990s. Katlehong and Thokoza also have a unique heritage and culture — a culture that revolves around spaza shops.

Spaza shop in Thokoza
A spaza shop in a hostel on Kumalo Street, one of the main battlegrounds during the fighting in the 1990s.

The First Spaza Shop Tour

Here’s a description of the tour:

We’re pleased to announce South Africa’s first Spaza Shop Tour: A five-kilometre walk through Katlehong and Thokoza townships.

Our tour will begin and end at the iconic African Accent Spaza Shop, owned by lifelong Katlehong resident and community leader Bongani Mabuza. Guests will embark on a historical tour of Katlehong and neighbouring Thokoza, stopping at several spaza shops and other historical and cultural sites along the way. Bongani and fellow guide Nkosikhona Kumalo will share their experiences growing up in Katlehong, discussing the history of the area and the unique role of spaza shops in the community. The tour includes conversations with several local spaza shop owners, a walk down historic Kumalo Street (site of violent political clashes between ANC and IFP fighters during the early 1990s), and a visit to the little-known site of a former WWII-era airport. There will be a short taxi ride at the end of the tour (face masks mandatory).

The tour includes a lot of walking: Please wear comfortable shoes and a hat. A meal and local snacks are included, but please bring a bit of cash for shopping along the way.

This first-ever tour of Katlehong and Thokoza can accommodate only 12 participants, so register now. African Accent is easily accessible via Google Maps: Search for “African Accent Katlehong”. There is safe, ample street parking in front of the shop.

Bongani, Nkosikhona, and I took a walk through Katlehong and Thokoza last weekend, chatting with people and planning out a route. I don’t want to give away too much, but here’s a glimpse of what we saw.

Nkosikhona and Bongani in front of a workers’ hostel in Katlehong.
Spaza shop beside hostels in Katlehong
Spaza shops — tiny shops selling food, drinks, cigarettes, and other necessities — are also called tuck shops.
Chef in Thokoza cooking up isibindi
Lebo Vilakazi, street food chef of Thokoza. You’ll have to come on the tour if you want to know what he’s cooking.
Green house in Thokoza
A very green house.
Umbrellas in Thokoza
Umbrellas = portable air conditioners.
Lady-owned spaza shop in Thokoza
A lady-owned spaza shop in Thokoza.
Vegetable seller in Katlehong
A Katlehong produce seller with signature hand-held horn.
Nkosikhona and Ashley
Nkosikhona and his friend Ashley at a shop on the site of the old airport, which they’ll tell you about on the tour.
Chess match in Katlehong
Chess match.
Garden in Katlehong
One of my favorite gardens in Katlehong.

There has never been a tour of Katlehong and Thokoza before, as far as we know, and this will be a unique opportunity to learn about a part of South African history that hasn’t been sufficiently told. Bongani and his friends grew up in Katlehong during the 1990s and have a lot of interesting stories, as do Nkosikhona, the spaza shop owners, and other locals we’ll meet along the way.

The tour costs R550, including food, and will last from 9:30 a.m. to about 4:00 p.m. There are only 12 spots. Since this is the first tour, for the sake of simplicity we’ve decided not to provide transport from Joburg to Katlehong. Katlehong is 40 minutes from central Joburg and easily navigable via Google Maps. But if you’re not able to drive yourself and really want to participate, please contact me privately.

This is very exciting!

Guys at a spaza shop

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