Hustlers Corner Shop is a barber’s where relationships are formed, advice is given and a brotherhood has developed. It represents the community and the many cultures that thrive on Louis Botha Avenue.
For the past three years Professor Nkomo has left his home in Orange Grove at 8am, placed a batch of energy drinks he sells in his barber’s shop into the boot of his rusty old white Toyota Corolla, and then made his way to work on Louis Botha avenue.
On arrival, like every other day, Nkomo lights a cigarette and unfolds the garage door that secures his barber’s shop, where he then cleans his tools for the day and prepares for what he calls a busy day of the week, Friday.
It is 9am and no customers have arrived yet. Nkomo leaves the shop open and gets into his car, which he has parked just outside, and awaits the arrival of his brother, with whom he runs the barber’s.
On many days there will be no customers and he will only be visited during their lunch breaks by people who work around Louis Botha Avenue.
Brother Eric arrives and starts shifting furniture around to sweep up the piles of hair on the floor.
Nkomo keeps himself busy and starts scratching in a compartment outside his shop, where he stores unique-looking mannequin heads.
“Eita mf’ethu, what are you doing?” a passer-by asks him.
“I am practicing a different style of cutting hair, my brother,” says Nkomo.
A barber’s shop that bridges the gap between black and white
He takes up one of three mannequin that resemble white men and have hair and beard textures similar to those of white people. The three heads have a fair skin tone, like most mannequins, but they stick out not just because of that, but because of the condition they are in. The heads have suffered quite a few bruises and dents.
Strands of hair fall from the mannequin heads as you handle them, because Nkomo utilizes them quite a lot.
“I bought these mannequins so that I can teach myself how to cut white people’s hair. A lot of white people come here and struggle to find a salon that caters for them. I am trying to bridge that gap and make this place more accommodating for everyone who lives here,” explains the owner of the Hustlers Corner Shop.
Nkomo named his barber’s shop “Hustlers Corner” because he regards himself as a hustler. A hustler has many definitions, but for him it is someone who is hard-working and able to make something out of nothing.
The 37-year-old came to South Africa in 2004 to escape poverty.“I had to leave Zimbabwe so that I could better my life and provide for my family, and that is why I chose to come to Orange Groove to try and make something of myself,” he said.
Louis Botha Avenue has, over the years, become a place of refuge for many of the African migrants who are now residents of the area.
The influx of migrants caused a shift as the first residents of Louis Botha Avenue, mostly white, moved out, leaving the area to cater more for the African newcomers.
Louis Botha became the perfect place to establish his shop. Nkomo says it was difficult to start elsewhere because here “I know a lot of people that come from Zimbabwe, which made me feel like Louis Botha is a home away from home”.
Louis Botha Avenue: ‘a home away from home’
From the Zimbabwean mechanic, hairdresser and tailor to store owners, Louis Botha Avenue has provided a number of people like Nkomo the opportunity to build a life supported and protected by fellow countrymen in another country.
These Zimbabwean-built businesses survive thanks to the people of Louis Botha Avenue and the sense of community they provide, making life easier for Zimbabweans in the area.
“I am very comfortable here because the area and people are very accommodating.”
The barber explains that everyone supports each other, despite the competition for customers, and everyone is willing to help you. Nkomo feels part of the many barber’s shops that occupy Louis Botha, but time and competition from many other foreign hair salons have forced him to come up with new ideas so that his doors remain open.
Louis Botha has undergone many changes since the time it was home to notorious gangsters, Jews and Italians. Many of the businesses on Louis Botha were owned and run by Italians or Jews, such as Nussbaum’s Kosher Butchery, Ital Machinery and Super Sconto, an Italian diner that still exists in the area. Many of Louis Botha’s old residents moved away from the area and foreign nationals have since moved in to establish themselves in an area whose locals share a similar culture.
Hustlers Corner Shop, embodies the art of hustling
The avenue is largely a business street, with Nkomo’s shop being surrounded by a number of hair salons, tailors, internet cafes, convenience shops and places of worship, to name a few. After the many changes that Louis Botha Avenue has undergone, there are more than 15 salons, restaurants and churches in the area.
Stepping into the barber’s, there is a constant stream of noise, taxis honk their horns every minute, and cars speed by only to get stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic due to the development of Rea Vaya, a form of public transport, and roadworks.
The barber’s shop is painted yellow and blue, and the inside is so tiny it can accommodate only one customer at a time. When you enter, the first thing you hear is loud music blasting from a dusty old PC used as a music player.
In a corner of the shop you will find a bar fridge stocked with Dragon energy drinks and alcohol; but this is no ordinary alcohol. It comes in sachets and is mixed with whiskey. Nkomo sells it as a “side hustle”, he said.When he opened his barbershop he also used to sell vintage clothing and plates of food. “When I first started cutting hair I would sell bales of clothing at cheap prices so I could make extra money and support my family,” he said.
Music has become a recollection of culture
As the music plays in the background, Nkomo describes his love of music and how some of the songs he plays remind him of his home in Zimbabwe.
There is a large collection of CDs on his desk and he said he used to be “in that industry”. Not only did he sell clothes on the side, but also pirated CDs and DVDs to anyone who was willing to buy them. He later stopped when he realised it could get him into trouble.
Nkomo’s brother, Eric, is also passionate about barbering, but communicating is a struggle for him since he was hit by a truck in childhood, which caused mental damage that later affected his speech.
Eric managed, however, to express that he enjoyed the work, picking up hair clippers and muttering “nice” as he smiled at them. Hustlers Corner Shop opened its doors in 2016, but the 37-year-old had already started barbering in 2011.
It is 1pm and a red vehicle parks in front of the store. A middle-aged man wearing a brightly coloured t-shirt steps out and shouts “Professor!”
Nkomo rushes out of the store and I ask him who this man is. He says, “this is Innocent Skhosana, a regular customer at Hustlers Corner Shop and a friend of mine.”’ “Sawubona sisi,” Skhosana greets. His energy fills up the room as everyone gravitates to him. “Would you like a beer?” asks Skhosana. I decline his offer politely and ask him about his visit to the barber’s and if he lives on Louis Botha Avenue.
Skhosana explains how the barber’s shops form part of the Louis Botha community.
“The Hustlers Corner Shop is one of the few places I feel comfortable at, not only to get my hair cut but to chill with friends and catch up on what has been happening in their lives,” he said.
A brotherhood within the barber’s shop
Over the five years that Skhosana has been Nkomo’s customer, they have developed a brotherhood. There was a time when Skhosana was so broke, he went to Nkomo and was offered a place to sleep by the barber. “Hustlers Corner Shop is where I found my family, even though I left my family in Zim,” he said. Barber’s shops on Louis Botha Avenue are home to many foreign nationals who come not only for a cut and shave but also for advice, support and overall to be a brotherhood.
Since the turn of the 19th century, beauty salons and barber shops have served as special places for Africans. According to an article in New Republic, the barber’s shop has become a place where men gather and spend time with other men, form close relationships, seek out advice and as a place to escape their problems. They have been places where black people could be vulnerable and talk about issues of importance to the community. Customers discuss local gossip, politics and community affairs.
Original residents moved away from Louis Botha due to increased crime, house invasions, illegal businesses and never-ending road works in the path of urban decay. African migrants did not care about the socio-political pressures. They just wanted a place where they could live without fear of being attacked as foreigners.
As the day progressed and Hustlers Corner Shop got busier, Nkomo was on his fifth customer of the day. He gushed with excitement when a middle-aged man who looked like a regular greeted him and asked if he could go next, for an “English cut”.
Nkomo explained that the English cut was part of his Zimbabwean culture and there is a specific way it is done, hence he is happy when people ask for it as it gives him an opportunity to let his culture shine through.
The customer’s name is David Ncube and he is a regular customer. He explained that the first time he saw the English cut was at Nkomo’s shop. He liked it and wanted the exact same style.
“I have seen that cut many times before, but there is something in the way Prof does it that makes me like it even more,” he said.
The future is bright for Nkomo
According to a journal article titled Fading, Twisting and Weaving: An interpretive ethnography of the black barbershop as a cultural space, the barber’s shop is an institution of social exchange where culture and community play an influential role. It is a cultural space that allows the exchange of ideas and discussion among barbers and customers.
Hustlers Corner Shop operates from 9am to 9pm and makes on average between R400 and R600 a day. Louis Botha has provided Nkomo with the opportunity to support his wife, Forget Nkomo, and their three kids.
Nkomo met his wife in Zimbabwe and came with her to South Africa, where they could build a better life and future for their South African-born children. Nkomo says South Africa is a place of opportunity, and if he had stayed in Zimbabwe he would still be struggling to provide for himself, let alone his family. “This place gave me security. When xenophobia took place we looked out for each other and that just proved to me that when I am here I have a family,” he said.
Nkomo sat down on one of the shaky chairs in his salon as he cleaned his barbershop tools for the last time for the day. He then stepped out of the salon to pack away the mannequin heads that were to bring him white customers, although none came. Looking into the distance, he said one day he hopes to own a number of barber’s shops around the African continent as a means “to celebrate the many different cultures and expand the business”.
FEATURED IMAGE: An image of a barbershop. Photo: Supplied
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