Coffee culture gives the aroma of home

Along the dusty road of Little Mogadishu, a blend of strong smells permeates the air, a combination of stale urine, dust and exotic spices. In the midst of that odour, there is also an aromatic smell – of coffee beans.

“This is not just any coffee, it is the original Ethiopian coffee,” Abdi Shemsu says appreciatively as he sips.

“Go inside and try it for yourself,” says the local man as he points at a little shop behind him.

The shop is dimly lit, with dark and earthy tones and smells of coffee and incense. On the wall there is a huge picture of Emperor Haile Selassie and next to it the old Ethiopian flag with its bright green, yellow and red colours.

Smells of garlic, chilli pepper, ginger, cinnamon and other herbs and spices fill the air.

The coffee shops of Little Mogadishu

Little Mogadishu, named after Somalia’s capital city, is a place in the buzzing area of Mayfair in Johannesburg. Being home to many foreign nationals makes it a multicultural place where immigrants try to recreate their home lives in South Africa.

According to anthropologist Dr Pauline Zimba from the University of South Africa: “As much as immigrants who are displaced or have fled their countries try to integrate in the society, they also stay true to their culture.”

While the place is a predominantly Somali-populated area, Ethiopians also have a little community that is cultural. Despite the differences in religion, where Somalis generally are staunch Muslims and Ethiopians are mostly Christians, the two nations often socialise together, mostly over a freshly roasted, strong cup of coffee.

Wearing Islamic clothes, a long robe-like top called a jubba, a man walks into the shop and sits next to a group of four men. They are chatting in Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language, and in Somali. They are watching the news on Addis TV when another man changes to a music channel and the man in the jubba starts to sing along.

The group seems happy to see him, as one of them calls a waiter and orders coffee for the man. His name is Fazir Mohammed and he says he comes to the coffee shop almost every day.

“I love this place, I come here every day to come and relax with my neighbours.”

Like other Somali men, Mohammed comes to the coffee shop in between his daily activities, which include selling clothes at his shop and going to the mosque.

“I like coming here not only for the coffee, but also for the news,” he says.

“We always talk about what happens in our hometowns over coffee, this is how our bond stays strong.”

Booming coffee trade

Coffee trading is very popular in Little Mogadishu. The consumers of the coffee are not only Ethiopians but Somalis and even South Africans.

According to Amir Sheikh, chairperson of the Somali Community Board in the area, Somalis are business-minded people who work all day with little play. “We do not have time for fun when we open the shop at 5am and close at 10pm,” Sheikh says.

GENIE IN THE BOTTLE: Jebena is used to boil coffee. Photo: Boipelo Boikhutso

“If we are not praying to Allah then we are having coffee at Ethiopian coffee shops.”

In several coffee shops in Little Mogadishu, there are Somalis and Ethiopians watching soccer and talking politics.

“They are our brothers, we are in this together,” Sheikh says.

A man known only as Bernard has been working as a coffee maker in the shop for the past six years. “Everyone here calls me Bernard.”

He insists on being called Bernard. “Sister, I cannot give you my full name, my papers have expired. It is too risky,” he says.

He explains that his visa expired in December and, with the current immigration laws in South Africa, he has been having trouble renewing it

“I do not understand it, I mean we are all Africans, why can’t we help each other?” he asks, while looking down.

After leaving his wife and children in Harar, a city in Ethiopia that is famous for producing most of the coffee in that country, Bernard came to South Africa and worked in a restaurant.

“My father used to be a chef, from a young age I learned how to cook.”

While working in the restaurant in Mayfair, he would send money home every month so that his wife could support the children. Bernard also managed to save enough money to buy the restaurant in Little Mogadishu from his boss after the boss went back to Ethiopia.

For most of the immigrants, their situation in Mayfair is just temporary. They still hope to go back to their motherlands in future.

“It’s not easy being away from your family, but a man prides himself in being able to provide for his family,” he says.

“One day, when God has decided, I will return home to reunite with my family.’’

Coffee brings Ethiopians together

While coffee is enjoyed by many people worldwide, the Ethiopians have a cultural attachment to coffee. For many Ethiopians, coffee is a way of bringing people together and their coffee ceremony symbolises this.

The ceremony starts off with the coffee maker washing the green coffee beans before roasting them. The beans are then put in a brazier to roast. Once they are roasted, they are ground until they are fine. The fine coffee powder is then poured into a boiling pot that looks like Aladdin’s genie bottle, with cold water, boiled and then served.

Traditionally, women serve the coffee. However, this is not always possible in Mayfair because the majority of coffee shop owners are men.

“Back at home, the tradition of the coffee ceremony is serious, it is a daily ritual for most families,” Bernard says.

“The ceremony is a sign of respect to the elders who found coffee,” he says.

In Ethiopia, it is also a norm for women to meet in each other’s homes in the morning to socialise over coffee.

Complemented by popcorn or dabo kolo, a bread made of roasted barley, Ethiopian coffee is taken with sugar and no milk three times a day. The first round, taken in the morning is called abol, the second one taken at noon is called tona, and the last one in the evening is called baraka.

SNACKS: Ethiopians complement the strong coffee with a bowl of fresh popcorn. Photo: Boipelo Boikhutso

Baraka, the last round, is a round not to be missed, baraka grants us blessings,” says Bernard.

He explains that, according to Ethiopian mythology, the last cup of the day should be taken in the evening to receive blessings from the ancestors.

Bernard asks: “Are you in a hurry? Because the coffee ceremony is not like your instant espressos, it takes time, but once you taste it, you will appreciate the time.”

The guests are entertained while the coffee maker undertakes the ritual, roasting and brewing the beans. Once the beans have been roasted, Bernard stands up from his stool and walks around the room, spreading the aroma of the freshly roasted coffee beans.

AROMATIC: Freshly roasted coffee beans. Photo: Boipelo Boikhutso.

There is a divine smell, a mixture of sweet aromas, of chocolate and spicy red wine. “Smell the original African coffee, thanks to Kaldi we can all enjoy coffee,” he says smiling.

The origins of coffee retold

According to Ethiopian folklore, coffee was discovered by a goat herder named Kaldi. He was herding his goats on a highland when the goats started behaving abnormally. They were allegedly dancing on their hind legs while bleating loudly with excitement.

He discovered that the cause of their behaviour was the coffee beans. After trying them himself and getting energised, he took them to the monastery.  Upon arrival, the monks were infuriated by his actions; they believed the beans were evil.

They tossed them into a fire, and then the aroma of the beans filled the monastery, making the monks think twice about their disdain.

In Ethiopian culture, during the coffee ceremony, the host spreads the aroma across the room to entice the guests and keep them in anticipation of the coffee.

Bernard explains that the smell of coffee serves as a reminder of home because “back at home, everywhere you go, you can smell coffee”.

“Coffee is sold everywhere, in restaurants, at homes, on the streets. Ethiopians love coffee, after all, it was discovered in our country.”

He then lights the incense and explains that “when people smell the incense, it is a sign that coffee is almost ready, it is an invitation to them to join us”.

ALMOST READY: Incense plays a pivotal role in Ethiopian coffee culture. The smell of incense serves as an invitation to the ceremony. Photo: Boipelo Boikhutso.

Bernard moved to Mayfair because of the lack of opportunities in Ethiopia. “I am here because it is easier to survive in South Africa, but survival does not mean leaving one’s roots.

“Mayfair serves as a great business opportunity for many of us.”

He says that when he came to South Africa, he already knew other Ethiopians who moved to Mayfair long before him.

“Having my fellow brothers here makes things easier because we help each other with businesses and still maintain our culture.”

For only R5, customers can afford to treat themselves to strong, but not bitter, smooth Ethiopian coffee. Full-bodied and dark, with red wine and chocolate notes, the coffee’s acidity brings the coffee to life.

A few kilometres away, is a coffee shop called Father on De Beer Street in an urban space loved by hipsters. The interior of the Braamfontein shop has simple, yellow wood that brings out the light in the shop. There’s a couple in there, a bearded, white young man with a tattooed arm and a woman with multiple piercings on her face. There are sounds of Alt-J, a British alternative indie band.

On the counter, there are soft and moist-looking big chocolate muffins, next to them, croissants with mozzarella and ham.

TRENDY: Some of the snacks on the counter at Father coffee shop. Photo: Boipelo Boikhutso

While in urban areas coffee serves as a drink to fuel people’s energy, in the Ethiopian culture it goes beyond that. Coffee serves as a vehicle that lets people pause, relax and socialise.

According to Bernard, Ethiopians do not just drink coffee to be awake and energised: “We have the ceremony, to sit back and relax and enjoy the aroma while also talking about football.”

In Braamfontein, some coffee shops sell Ethiopian coffee, however, the coffee does not have the same cultural aspect to it.

According to Ori Cohen, co-manager of Doubleshot, a coffee outlet and wholesaler in Braamfontein: “The Ethiopian coffee ceremony does not really get the best out of the bean.

“Ethiopian coffees are extremely variable in flavour, processing style and quality, the Ethiopian way is not necessarily the best way,” he said.

‘There is no Ethiopia without coffee’

In Mayfair, Bernard makes an average R125 daily from coffee. “It’s not because the place is always packed, but because the same people drink about four cups each.

“On a good day, I make about R275,” he says.

Bernard says he has tourists now and then coming into his shop for the coffee and the food. “At the end of the day, it is not just about money, but our culture.”

Habesha Binya, an expert in coffee who teaches people how to make Ethiopian coffee in the CBD, believes that when she teaches people how to make coffee, “I don’t simply want them to make great coffee, but I want them to feel connected to its roots and the culture of bringing people together.

“Whenever there is a coffee ceremony, we are reminded that what we do is more than just ‘coffee’ but rather preserving and celebrating our culture.

“There is something about the smell of good Ethiopian coffee that makes one feel like they are back in Ethiopia at home.”

After she stirs the cup to make sure the sugar is mixed well she hands me the cup, smiles and says, “Buna dabo naw” which literally means “Coffee is our bread”.

According to Bernard: “There is no Ethiopia without coffee, we drink it, we produce it and we sell it. It is our pride.”

FEATURED IMAGE: GENIE IN THE BOTTLE: Jebena is used to boil coffee. Photo: Boipelo Boikhutso


The Elder of Little Mogadishu

In a part of Johannesburg, that feels like a part of Somalia, one man and his family are searching for a better life. This is the story of Ebrahim Mohammed Ali, one of thousands of Somali immigrants trying to make it in the City of Gold.

Ebrahim Mohammed Ali inside his coffee shop showing some of the pictures of Somali farms in his file. Photo: Sinikiwe Mqadi

On the corner of Albertina Sisulu Road and Somerset Street, in the small enclave of Little Mogadishu in Mayfair, Johannesburg, the smell of dark, roasted coffee fills the air. “Qakwo!” calls a man, above the hubbub of traffic and business at the spaza shops, cellphone stores and food outlets.

It’s a Friday afternoon, and Ebrahim Mohammed Ali has just came back from mosque. He is wearing a kurta, a long-sleeved, ankle-length white robe, and a kufi, the knitted skull cap for Muslim men.

He is sitting on a chair made from old tyres, at a table hammered together from wooden crates.

Qakwo means coffee in the Somali language, but it is also the nickname by which the owner of Qakwo Coffee Shop is fondly known. Ali is a stout man, a Somali Bantu, with tightly curled hair and broad shoulders. He is 49 years old and is respected as an elder in the community.

He walks over to the table, carrying a tray of biscuits and coffee. I order a cup. It costs R5. The qakwo is bitter and smells like cooked bark. Without sugar, it could be mistaken for a traditional medicine.

Ali sitting with Am Ahmed, chairperson of the Somali Culture and Heritage Council, during his visit to Ali’s coffee shop. He is drinking a cup of qakwo. Photo: Sinikiwe Mqadi

“You drink it when you wake up in the morning,” says Ali. “It’s the first thing you drink. It makes you strong.” I ask him how he makes the qakwo and he laughs. “It’s my secret,” he says. “Do you also want to open a business?”

Ali’s coffee shop is decorated with Somali crafts and artefacts, including a coal iron, enamel kettles and paraffin lamps. There are laminated Somali banknotes and newspaper articles on the wall.

A survivor of xenophobia in South Africa

Ali laughs as he tells the story of a Chinese man with 34 wives and 94 children.

Some of Ali’s favourite stories pasted on the wall inside his coffee shop. Photo: Sinikiwe Mqadi

“You were shocked when I told you I married many times, but you see this man can have 34,” he chuckles.

Ali dreams of opening a franchise of his Qakwo Coffee Shop. “Me, I know how to work,” he says. “I know how to cook.” But, for now, he is struggling to rebuild his life and business in an area of the city that feels most like home.

Ali left his war-torn homeland in 1991, in search of a better life for himself and his family. He has 17 children, 11 boys and 6 girls. “When I came to Home Affairs,” he says, “I took my children, and they gave me a form to fill in. This guy called the manager, saying there is no space. There was only space for two children. That manager said I must write the others at the back.”

Ali, like many of the Somali community in Little Mogadishu, is a survivor of the xenophobic violence that erupted in South Africa in 2008. At the time, he was running a small panel-beating business in Newtown. The xenophobic attacks destroyed his business and also took the life of his brother, who lived in an apartment at the site.

Ali left his brother there at the close of business one night during the attacks.  When he returned the following morning, he found his brother dead and all of his cars, his customers’ cars, and the tools, had been stolen. His entire livelihood, worth about R800 000, had gone up in smoke.

He had come in search of a better life. Instead, he found trouble, fear, and misfortune.

Family life

There are an estimated 50 000 Somalis living in South Africa. Ali is among the approximately 6 000 who live in Mayfair and surrounding communities in Johannesburg.

Ali believes his life in Somalia before the war was better than it is now in South Africa. “Here my life is so difficult,” he says. “Now I don’t have holiday and weekend. I don’t even relax, that’s why I’m getting old fast. My boys only help me when they are not at school.”

But the Qakwo Coffee Shop keeps him busy, and helps him pay the R12 000 a month for the two houses he rents for his two wives and six children in Mayfair.

One of Ali’s houses is one street away from his coffee shop. His younger wife, Khadija Masuwa Aweys, takes care of the house and children.

She sits on the sofa with three Somali women. Aweys is wearing a short, silver shirt and a long sarong. One of the woman is telling the story of why she divorced her husband. “He was taking a second wife,” she says. “I didn’t want to share him.” The other women laugh.

Ali is back at the coffee shop, with two of his sons. A third son had come to show us the house.

Ali’s son Farhaan Ebrahim Mohammed making ginger tea in the kitchen. Photo: Sinikiwe Mqadi

Ali’s status as an elder in the Somali community gives him a responsibility beyond his family. It earns him respect, and he is often called on to give advice and resolve disputes.

He is considered the chief of Mayfair’s Somali Bantus, because his grandfather is a king of the Bantu clan in Somalia. People who need help come to him. Criminal cases are referred to the police, but when there are disputes concerning culture and religion in the community, people look to him for help.

“I have resolved a family issue between the two guys fighting over a business. I told them to sell in different places, not to share one,” Ali says.

Jordaan Musesi, the ward 58 ANC councillor, knows Ali well. “When I have some questions about the community, I go to him as one of the elders,” Musesi says.

Although no Somalis serve on the ward 58 committee, this doesn’t mean they don’t have a voice.

“When we have meetings we invite everyone in the community,” says Musesi. “We consult with the organisations that represent them. In cases where there is a language barrier we try to find translators.”

Language is among the challenges Somalis face in their process of integrating into South African society. Amir Sheikh, chairperson of the Somali Community Board of South Africa, says the board tries to help members of its community deal with challenges they face in South Africa.

“Language and religion are the key factors why it is hard for Somalis to be part of the larger South African society,” says Sheikh.

In Ali’s coffee shop, though, there are no barriers. “Everyone is welcome to my place, I love everyone,” says Ali. “When there are cultural differences, I help solve that. Even South Africans sometimes come and I show them some things about their culture.”

A group of men sitting outside Ali’s coffee shop with his son Farhaan. Photo: Sinikiwe Mqadi

Ali is trying to make South Africa his home. He worked for six years in Tanzania, raising money for his journey, and another two years in Zambia before reaching South Africa in 2000.

Although Ali has no formal education, he arrived in South Africa with marketable skills in farming and panel beating.  “Me, I never went to school, I don’t know English well,” he says.  With help from two Somali men who had settled in Mayfair earlier, Ali started his first South African business.

When his businesses started to flourish, he brought his family to live with him in South Africa. He had eight children when he left Somalia.  Six more were born during the years it took to reach South Africa, and three more after his family joined him here.

Zaheera Jinnah, an anthropologist and researcher at the Africa Migration Centre at Wits University, says religion and the location of Mayfair play key roles in attracting Somalis.

“Somalis were able to trade and do business when they got to Mayfair because it’s close to the city centre. When they came to South Africa they had nowhere to go, so they went to the mosques, and many of the mosques close to the city centre were in Mayfair,” says Jinnah.

“They were also able to access many faith-based NGOs, and many of them already had an engagement with the Somalis in their country.”

‘They will never touch you. They are very peaceful’

Naboweya Dollie, originally from Cape Town, has lived in Mayfair for the past 24 years.  She is a Muslim and attends mosque with some Somalis.

“They are very loud when they speak and sometimes you would be scared, but they will never touch you. They are very peaceful,” says Dollie.

Dollie moved to Mayfair when her husband’s company transferred him to Johannesburg. “At that time the place had many Indians and Greeks, but now you see many people from all over Africa and the world. We even call it the United States of Africa.”

The South African Refugee Act guarantees refugees the same rights as enjoyed by South Africans citizens. And yet, refugees often suffer discrimination and life-threatening violence from South Africans.

During the xenophobic attacks in 2008, more than 60 foreign nationals died. Earlier this year, about seven died in an outbreak of violence.  Somalis were often targeted in the attacks.

Jinnah says the South African Refugees Act is very progressive, but South African leaders and the private sector undermine the law with incendiary statements.

“We can’t really push more for our Refugees Act, it’s very good,” she says. “But government officials should stop saying the things they say.”

Despite the xenophobic violence, Ali says he has had few problems adjusting to his new homeland. His facial traits help him escape some of the negative attitudes to Somalis.

He says he can go to Soweto because he looks like a South African. “The only problem is that people speak their language, ‘hey madala, unjani?’ I just keep quiet and people think ‘oh madala is tired’,” he says.

Ali sitting with his son inside the coffee after they have come back from the mosque. Photo: Sinikiwe Mqadi

Making a living in Somalia was hard after the collapse of the government in 1991 and the beginning of civil war. Homes and businesses were demolished. In 2001 there was a major drought.

But life in Somalia was doubly difficult for Somali Bantus, who form about 20% of the population. Their ancestors were captured from Bantu tribes taken to Somalia as slaves during the Arab slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries. Even today, Somali Bantus are still discriminated against in Somalia.

Regardless of the challenges of integration into South African society, Ali works hard to pay for his children’s education.

From a daughter’s perspective

His daughter Shikru Ibrahim Mohammed, 14, says her father is highly respected in the community. “I can go in the street at night and nobody touches me because they know my dad is a very strict man.”

But Shikru does not want to tell her father about the struggles she faces, because she fears for his health. “My father is diabetic,” she says. “I don’t want to stress him. I know if he knows he would be very angry.”

Ali’s daughter Shikru Ebrahim Mohammed standing next to the chairs she made with her father in one of the rooms in the family house in Mayfair. Photo: Sinikiwe Mqadi

Shikru goes to Salvazione Christian School, because it’s the only school that was willing to accept her without a study permit. “Teachers really hate me at the school.  They have accused me of watching porn in the computer lab. They know I wouldn’t do that. But one of them that I really like went to the computer lab to check history and she saw I didn’t do anything,” she says.

She believes teachers hate her because she is Somali and Muslim. Her mother advises her to wear a scarf when she leaves home and to take it off once she is close to school, to try and blend in with the other girls, and to do the same when she comes back.

“When I go to school I wear leggings underneath my skirt and other learners would ask me if I’m not feeling hot. My friends are cool, so they defend me and tell others that I’m Muslim.”

Shikru has adopted some of the vocabulary favoured by South African teenagers, such as “cool” and “awesome”. As she smiles, talking about her father, Shikru keeps pulling her scarf down, to cover part of her chest.

“In my culture you get married around 13 or 14. When I told my father that I don’t want to get married now, he didn’t have a problem. He told me I must get education. I want to do something like design so I can help him with his business.”

Shikru’s mother, Aweys, sitting on the sofa, smiles and asks for translations of parts of our conversation.

As Shikru talks about marriage, her mother says, in Somali language, “I would be happier if she marries a Somali man.”

Three of Shikru’s sisters are married. One lives in South Africa, and the other two are in Zambia and the US. They all married around the age of 14. “My father always tells me he doesn’t want me to be down like my sisters,” says Shikru.

Ali is building a better future for his children in South Africa but, if there wasn’t war in Somalia, he would go back. “I’m in jail, I haven’t seen my family for more than 20 years.”

Ali’s dream for the moment is to expand his business, so he can afford education for his children. For now, day after day, he serves the bitter coffee that has made a name for him in Little Mogadishu.

FEATURED IMAGE: Ebrahim Mohammed Ali inside his coffee shop showing some of the pictures of Somali farms in his file. Photo: Sinikiwe Mqadi


Bravado for a R100 Skhotado?

father coffee

R100 TO SPARE?: Father Coffee in Braamfontein serves the Skhotado, a mixture of custard, an energy drink and coffee, for a whopping R100. This drink isn’t for the faint-hearted (or broke!). Photo: Tracey Ruff

This drink, called the Skhotado, consists of Ultra Mel custard, Red Bull and Ristretto and is one of Father Coffee’s signature drinks. The Skhotado even has its own Instagram hashtag. Now that’s pretty cool.

 [pullquote]”The idea for the drink is based on the Izikhotane youth culture whereby members burn money, destroy expensive clothes and pour alcohol on the ground – all in the name of being cool.”[/pullquote]

One of the four owners of 73 Juta Street’s Father Coffee, Chad Goddard, said the Skhotado started off as “a bit of a joke”. The idea for the drink is based on the Izikhotane youth culture whereby members burn money, destroy expensive clothes and pour alcohol on the ground – all in the name of being cool.

Goddard says buying the drink is essentially a cheeky way of “showing off how rich you are” – and yes folks, there are those who have bought this drink and wasted it by either pouring it on the table or passing it on to someone else.

A few weeks ago, Wits Vuvuzela ran an article on what you can do with R100 in Braam. Well, here’s another thing to add to your list – if you’re brave enough of course. If you’re looking for a way to stay awake for a long day of lectures, well the Skhotado may just be the answer.

(Cheaper) Drinks with a difference

However, we at Wits Vuvuzela know that a drink for R100 is not everyone’s cup-of-tea (or cup-of-Skhotado) and thankfully, Father Coffee has a menu of other coffees and drinks to choose from – all costing a lot less than R100.

From a Lindt hot chocolate for R25 to cappuccinos (starting at R15) and fresh ice tea (R15), Father Coffee is an ideal place for a quick coffee break, some rest and relaxation or a date-with-a-difference.

Goddard highly recommends the cappuccinos and flat-whites (a cappuccino with less foam). The drinks are served in cute mugs, making your coffee-drinking experience just that extra bit cooler.

According to Goddard, the second most popular drink after the cappuccino is the Cortado, which will set you back around R20. An espresso cut with a small amount of warm milk, this drink is sure to awaken your senses and help you complete those last-minute assignments.

The “Father” of all coffees

Located directly opposite Kitchener’s Carvery and next to the Neighbourgoods Market, Father Coffee is a quaint and cosy spot. With its wood-panelled walls and sociable staff, the atmosphere is welcoming, intimate and homely.

If you’re looking for some down-time, then it’s best to avoid Saturdays when Father Coffee and its surroundings are hustling and bustling with the Neighbourgoods crowds. It is much quieter during the week and you’ll be able to enjoy a selection of gourmet sandwiches and baked treats from the Black Forest Bakery with your coffee.

Father Coffee is open weekdays from 8am to 4pm (perfect for that one-hour lunch-break between lectures) and on Saturdays from 8.30am to 5.30pm.

So whether you have the cash to try a Skhotado or just want a good old fashioned cappuccino, Father Coffee is a definite must.

How do you like your coffee?

It all began with two encounters – a fictional encounter, complicated by a peculiarly South African issue. And an encounter on a real-life level, which brought about a “mingling of different colours”.Two students,  who were no more than acquaintances before, had to work intimately together this month to create a piece of physical theatre about a relationship between two characters. But not just any two people.  56 Mocha Street follows the tensions between an interracial couple.

The Actors

5,6,7,8: Oupa Sibeko and Emma Tollman rehearse their physical theatre piece 56 Mocha Street.

5,6,7,8: Oupa Sibeko and Emma Tollman rehearse their physical theatre piece 56 Mocha Street.

Emma Tollman and Oupa Lesne Sibeko, 3rd year Drama, choreographed the piece based on their own experiences.

The two characters encounter one another in 56 Mocha Street, their home and space. Here they delve into the tensions between how society perceives interracial relationships and how they perceive themselves after being affected by society, said Sibeko.

Apart from the obvious racial tensions – between their characters and, potentially, the two of them –  the actors described what it was like to have to work together for the first time.  “I remember doing a back-to-back improvisation and Oupa’s body felt so foreign to me,” said Tollman.

How the piece was created

In creating the piece, the two took inspiration from their physical theatre class. It was about discovering “who we are in the class, personally and in the relationship”, said Sibeko. The name 56 Mocha Street uses the metaphor of coffee to describe “the mingling of different colours”, with Emma as a white female and Oupa a black male. The piece explores the intricacies of gender fights, and facing one another head-on.The two use the idea of play and using their bodies to take on the spaces in which they find themselves. Through this, they explore the idea of encounters further.

What is the piece about?

[pullquote]“It’s a vicious cycle of disconnection, finding each other and losing each other,”[/pullquote]

The piece depicts an intensely tragic relationship, “Its a vicious cycle of disconnection,finding each other and losing each other” ,said Tollman. She described the journey through Mocha Street as different from that of a more conventional theater. In this piece, “there is a disillusion of time, a flood of happenings. We are always just happening, we can’t control keeping on.”

The piece was created through a process of “play”, during which the two noticed that material “kept happening”. Through this material and their movements, they have found a story.

56 Mocha Street will be on show at the Wits Downstairs theater on August 26 and 29.

A coffee shop that’s stirring things up

Coffee cowboys

Coffee barons: The Team from HEI cafe with some of their self-made product. A coffee brand, home-made jam are just some the products                                                                                                                                           Photo: Mfuneko Toyana


The students who run the Hillbrow Entrepreneurship Initiative’s (HEI) recently opened coffee shop in Braamfontein, have been getting their aprons dirty proving that entrepreneurship and creativity go together, just as well as coffee and crepes.


Three weeks ago HEI café opened its narrow, wood-panelled doors and beckoned Braamfontein’s creative minds inside.

[pullquote]Beyond those doors is a coffee shop, a conference room, a library, an art gallery and a grandmother of a beige couch that could be auctioned off by next week.[/pullquote]

Good old hard work and determination seems to be the ingredient bringing together these disparate elements.

Early on Tuesday evening, as Braamfontein’s tall buildings emptied themselves out on to the streets and into buses and taxis. Phephisile Mathizerd, tapping on a laptop keyboard and fending off whistles from her cellphone, explained why HEI café was not just another coffee shop.

“It’s a conducive space,” Mathizerd said of the space furnished with odds and ends straight out of a postcard of 19th-century Paris.

“Everything we have here is from (Wits) Hospice, we’re using the space to help them sell their stuff,” she said.

The “library” books are from the Wits Hospice as well, and for R80 a month students can loan out up to four books a week.

The café also serves as a place for the entrepreneurs who work with HEI to display and sell their products, be it paintings or stuffed versions of the big five, to homemade jam and hand-carved furniture.

"Another one garçon": Howard Hamandishe is one of the barrista's at HEI trained by fellow Braamfontein coffee shop Post

“Another one garçon”: Howard Hamandishe is one of the barrista’s at HEI cafe trained by fellow Braamfontein coffee shop Post                                                                                                                                                                         Photo: Mfuneko Toyana


This Sunday they will be hosting their first furniture and art auction.

Barbara Copelovici explained HEI’s entrepreneurship program:

“We offer the entrepreneurs a ‘business-in-a-box’ worth R10 000.  A business account, basic start-up equipment and WiFi. If their business runs for more than three months, they can go to the Branson Centre for free,” Copelovici said.

She explained that from a pool of 100 entrepreneurs they had narrowed the number down to five of the best ideas, and worked with this group on a 6 to 12 months basis.

The menu, consisting solely of coffee and crepes, was inspired by French-born Copeloivci, one of the founders of HEI.

Everything at the café has a minimum, not a fixed price, and patrons are encouraged to pay more if they can.

All revenue generated by the cafe goes back into the Initiative’s programmes, and to paying interns and employees who work in the shop.



Coffee vele

HEI cafe is entirely student-run, using coffee as the basis for connecting creative minds.

The café is entirely student run.

For entrepreneurs to use the conference room in the quaint café, wedged in the alley between the Nando’s on Jorissen street and the Puma store on De Korte, is buy a coffee and a crepe.


For under R25, they are allowed use of the well-furnished conference room, access to Wifi, in-house computers, as well as help and advice from the staff.

HEI will also host a “speed dating” session this Friday.


Theko Moteane said the session would be on the same principle as match-making, except they would encouraging people to mingle and make business connections, rather than romantic ones, and establish the basis for future collaborations..


“This is where the rich meet the poor, where big corporates meet students,” Theko said.