CELEBRATING 33 years in business in December, Pinetown’s Rainbow Restaurant has certainly had an impact on South African music and contributed greatly to the country’s 20 years of democracy.
Being the first establishment of its kind in KwaZulu-Natal, located in a so-called “white” area under the Group Areas Act, the founding members were Ben Pretorius and Billy Mthembu.
To run the Rainbow they were granted a licence to sell food and sorghum beer to black people. But before they could open, they needed permission from every business within 200m. After all the apartheid hurdles they eventually opened and in May 1983 received a full liquor licence. In 2001 Pretorius suggested Nicola and Neil Comfort take ownership of the venue.
Tonight caught up with Neil to chat about the venue’s history.
“Well, for Ben Pretorius it was very much a way of opposing the apartheid laws at the time. He had a lot of black friends in Clermont and in lots of town-ships and he’d go to the jazz spots. So he wanted to do something for the people and the idea was to open a place for black people to meet in an area which at the time was for whites only. So that’s what motivated him and started that process.
“Then they started staging concerts, very much with the goal of using it as a platform to raise awareness and discuss the situation of the country at the time. And that foundation is the magic of the Rainbow. We’ve been doing it for more than 30 years – normal South Africans getting together and enjoying music and leaving the race stuff at the door. It’s so unique.
“We want people to mingle irrespective of their race and we want to break down barriers. It’s a first come, first served kind of thing so people can make friends, and that’s all born out of the vision Ben had of how ridiculous apartheid was.”
The Rainbow Restaurant is recognised as having helped to shape the careers of many South African musicians by allowing them the opportunity to play at the venue, even when it was illegal because of apartheid.
Musicians who played there and have gone on to become part of the Rainbow Restaurant family include Winston “Mankunku” Ngozi, Philip Thabane and Malombo, Darius Brubeck, Sandile Shange, Oliver Mtukudzi, Busi Mhlongo and Sipho Gumede.
According to Comfort, the Rainbow has been a consistent platform and artists like the late Mhlongo called it their “spiritual home”.
“The roots are so deep in the community. And we draw people from all over, like Hammarsdale and Clermont. The people have always lived there and will remain humbly loyal to the business. Nicola and I are just custodians and it’s something bigger than us. We aren’t owners or bosses. We are looking after it as much as the community is. The Rainbow community is bigger than the Rainbow. That’s where the magic lies; when people leave all the rubbish in our lives out on the street and enjoy good music.”
• For more information on the Rainbow and events, call 031 702 9161.