Johannesburg - If I was none the wiser I’d think I had just walked in on an early corporate Christmas party. About 40 men and women are seated in Beirut restaurant in Parkmore, chatting away and creating a jolly collective hum. And the evening has only just begun.
An eagle-eyed pan of the room and I can see there are more women than men, that they’re mostly 30-somethings, and exclusively white. The men, bar one who looks morose and untalkative, are clearly relishing the favourable ratio, and are evenly dotted between lots of smiling, laughing, well-dressed members of the opposite sex.
What I’m witnessing is one of the events of Meet Joburg, the brainchild of Suzette Leal and Tilda Loots, who both have psychology degrees from the University of Pretoria. It’s a platform for singles – 25 years and up – to meet and mingle, and since it launched its first event in June 2011 it has garnered over 1400 members, hosting six to eight events a month.
“We are getting six to seven applicants a day, and the target market is in the higher LSM (living standards measure),” says Leal.
They would need to be, as a yearly membership is R1 200 and each event costs R300 to R350 per person “though we are going to start with less expensive events”, says Leal, who wants to expand from Joburg’s northern suburbs, where the events are concentrated, to the east and west rand, as well as Tshwane.
Leal and Loots, having done some research, found that although internet dating is successful in terms of volumes, there are safety concerns, for women especially.
“[And] South Africans are still a little conservative when it comes to openly declaring they are single and looking for dates.
“In London and New York, there is so much for singles to do, but South African cities are geared for couples. So we saw a gap.
“The idea is to create a natural environment for people to meet, to forge relationships, friendships or just to network. It works, because 70 percent find satisfaction in one of these goals,” says Leal.
The Meet Joburg events are loosely themed along restaurants and dining, sports, arts and culture, and adventure, so that members with common interests can be pooled. Previous events have included cooking classes, ten pin bowling, river rafting, a night out in Soweto and a moonlight picnic. Members can also bring a “wing man” or “wing lady” if they are shy or introverted.
The women to men membership ratio is about 60 to 40, which is common to dating platforms, and most members are professionals in banking, mining, accounting, engineering or law.
“For some reason we have a lot of people from the banking industry in particular,” says Leal.
One of the reasons they all get along as though they’ve known each other for a while is because most of them indeed have. “They’ve met each other at previous events, but at each event, about 40 percent are new members who integrate with the older ones,” says Leal.
Attendance at events is on a first-come, first-serve basis, as 40 is the maximum for most events, and members get at least two event invitations a month.
Having “integrated” myself for an hour in this group, I can testify to the vibrancy of the interactions between men and women, as well as women and women.
However I would caution women over 40 against joining, as most of the men are still in that jocular, “party hard” phase of their lives, and there are more than enough women in their age bracket and maturity level to consume their interest.
Leal and Loots recently sold a franchise, Meet Durban, which launches on November 3, and plan to launch Meet Cape Town in April next year. Meanwhile, they are launching Meet Gayburg (for Johannesburg’s gay community), on November 17, followed by Meet Gay Town (in Cape Town), in February. - The Star
* To become a member, visit www.meetjoburg.co.za. If successful you will be invited to your first event. Should you enjoy the experience of your first event, you can sign up to become a member. Tel: 0860 225 545.