On Saturday I participated in the first-ever #SpazaShopTour, starting and ending at African Accent Spaza Shop in Katlehong.

Walking through Katlehong
Walking through Katlehong.

The weather was miraculously perfect for a six-kilometer walk. We wound through Katlehong and Thokoza, visiting spaza shops and street-side cafés and historical sites, chatting with each other and those we met along the way. Bongani, our host, walked us past his family home and explained what it was like to grow up in Katlehong in the early 1990s, when a deadly war broke out as the apartheid regime came to an end.

We learned about the history of spaza shops — which became a lifeline during a time when South Africa’s retail food chain didn’t reach most South Africans — and how the spaza shop industry has evolved and adapted over time. We ate pap and ox liver and spicy boerewors. We drank ice-cold Fanta from a glass bottle, which tastes so much better than Fanta from a plastic bottle. We walked down a residential street that used to be an airplane runway.

We visited Kumalo Street in Thokoza, where the biggest battles of the 1990s were fought, and learned about the origin of the conflict between ANC and IFP supporters during that time. We rode in a taxi driven by a man who was once shot 16 times.

Obert Sidala Mabuza of Katlehong
Bongani’s father, Obert Sidala Mabuza, with his taxi on Kumalo Street. Mr. Mabuza owns a taxi business and was caught up in the violence of the 1990s. He was shot 16 times and spent months unconscious in an intensive care unit before recovering.

Have you ever felt like you’re witnessing the start of something really special — something no one knows about yet except for the small, privileged group around you in that moment? I felt that way on Saturday.

Walking Katlehong and Thokoza

I’ve done a lot of walking tours in and around Joburg. I’ve never met a walking tour I didn’t like. But there’s something about walking around this area that speaks to me in a particular way…I don’t know how to explain it.

I have far too many photos from this walk. Deciding which ones to share is agonizing.

A spaza shop in Thokoza
Thokoza scene.
Spaza Shop Tour bicycle escort in Katlehong
Part of our tour’s bicycle escort. It’s hard to see but he’s wearing a vest from Mentos. Mentos has a really interesting partnership with African Accent, which Bongani explains during the tour. (The photo is by my friend Joy, who asked to borrow my camera for a minute and captured one of the best shots of the day.)
General Dealer in Katlehong
Joy tests out the furniture in front of a Katlehong shop.
Green and yellow houses
I’ve taken countless photos of interesting houses and gates and gardens in Kathlehong and Thokoza over the past few weeks. Maybe I’ll do an exhibition someday.
Sign painting
I also want to do an exhibition on interesting township sign painting.
Biker dudes in Katlehong
A trio of cool biker dudes we met.
Spaza shop owner in Thokoza
David, a spaza shop owner in Thokoza, sells us some candy.
Cash for Scrap
Cash 4 Scrap.
Rooster in Thokoza
Chicken, master of its domain, looks out onto historic Kumalo Street in Thokoza.
Kid in Joker mask
The Joker.
Site of the former Palmietfontein Airport in Katlehong
Walking down a very wide road in Katlehong. The road is wide because it was once a runway at Palmietfontein Airport, opened here in the 1940s to service the area during WWII as O.R. Tambo (then Jan Smuts ) Airport was being built.
God Is the Love hair salon
God is the love.

At the end of the walk, which took about four hours, we all gathered at African Accent for a braai organized by Bongani’s mother. We stuffed ourselves, shot a group picture, and prepared to drive home.

Group photo after the Spaza Shop Tour in Katlehong
The inaugural #SpazaShopTour group.

When I went to leave, I realized my car’s battery was dead and I was also locked out of the car. (Long story.) So my friend Joy and I waited around African Accent for two hours until a locksmith showed up, which was not the end of the world. We got to hang out longer with our new Katlehong friends, and I took more photos in the golden afternoon light.

Esther Mabuza, sporting fashion designed by her son Bongani.
Nkosikhona in Katlehong
Nkosikhona, tired after a long day guiding tourists around his home town.
Tshiamo and Bongani at the African Accent Spaza Shop in Katlehong
Bongani and his two-year-old niece, Tshiamo.

The next #SpazaShopTour takes place on 14 November. If you’d like to book, sign up here.

Spaza Shop Tour logo
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