Maria Mohlala has been selling amagwinya in Pretoria for the past 18 years.  Pictures: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency/ANA
Maria Mohlala has been selling amagwinya in Pretoria for the past 18 years. Pictures: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency/ANA
Maria Mohlala’s day begins at 1am and she's in the city centre by 4.30am. Such is the demand that all her amagwinya are sold by 9am.
Maria Mohlala’s day begins at 1am and she's in the city centre by 4.30am. Such is the demand that all her amagwinya are sold by 9am.
MAN-MADE box walls, the pungent smell of paraffin and cooking oil; a bucket of dough and slices of polony within close reach - are the things seen each morning on almost every corner in the city.

Behind these box walls sit local mamas making and selling amagwinya or vetkoek for city dwellers and for workers in the CBD. And this deep fried dough has become the most beloved breakfast for many people, to a point where mornings are not the same without it, eaten at their desks or in office kitchens by those who ply their trade in the inner city.

They are best served hot, and so become a hit on a cold winter's days.

This love for amagwinya has seen those working in the CBD and residents alike patiently queue from early morning just to get the boost to get their day started.

Although every corner in the CBD has a mama selling them, customers are mainly seen queuing between the National Treasury and the Palace of Justice on Madiba and Paul Kruger street where mama Maria Mohlala has set up her business.

Mohlala, 53, of Moloto has been selling her favourite fast food on the same spot since 2000, and her business has grown in leaps and bounds since then.

Mohlala says she started like many women seen on the corners, with a paraffin stove, a 20-litre bucket full of dough and one mixing bowl, a stack of cut up newspapers and plastic bags for wrapping and packaging.

She adds some mongola (special garlic polony) and polony on the side for those who want the extras.

“When I started in 2000 I used a paraffin stove, one bowl and a pot to deep fry the dough and that was it.

"I would come very early in the morning and leave with empty buckets as everything would be sold out not too long after,” she said.

Eighteen years later, Mohlala’s business has grown, she has upgraded from one bucket of dough to five buckets in summer and seven in winter; from a paraffin stove to three micro plus gas stoves with big steel bowls, and unlike businesses seen on every corner, hers has two stations - a kitchen and a selling station.

She said this was achieved by having good relations with her customers, respecting them and giving them what they wanted.

“Honestly, this is God's grace; it is by praying and praising God that my business is where it is today.

"Of course that also goes with respecting my customers, keeping this place clean and also listening and responding to their complaints,” Mohlala said.

Taking us through her preparations for her ‘work day’, Mohlala said she wakes up at 1am to get ready, leaves home at 2:30am to catch a bus to the city, and arrives in the city at 4am.

She then begins to set up, make the box walls to avoid the wind, switches on her gas stove, heats the oil and when hot enough, puts her dough balls in to get the final product.

By 9am she is normally done with the business of the day and is packing to make her way back home, to start with the dough mixture for the next day.

She prepares it as soon as she gets home to allow it to rise overnight.

“It takes me an hour to mix all the ingredients to make a dough,” she said.

“When I started selling back in 2000 I used to leave here with R400, right now let's just say the business has grown and doing well,” she laughed.

And due to the growth, she has managed to employ three people.

Assisting Mohlala with the daily running of the business is her younger brother Isaac Ntshwane, her neighbour's son Thabo Ramashala, and a street person, Ntokozo Mahlangu from Soshanguve, who works as their errand boy.

She said: “from when I started, I have had street kids coming to ask for amagwinya and I always give them some; we eat together".

“Among them was Ntokozo who I then hired to be our messenger, and whenever we run out of gas or need something quick I trust him because he always comes back and does as he is told.”

Mohlala lives with her husband, son and two grandchildren in Moloto. Like all businesses which have challenges, she said the biggest challenge she faced was Pretoria's rainy days.

“We do not have shelter, so when it rains it becomes a real challenge for us, and whenever there is a bus strike that means we cannot come to work.

"We also have our share of dealing with the metro police when they do not want street vendors operating on the streets, but a man called Shoes has really helped us in that regard,” she said.

Other challenges include breaking up fights between customers cutting to the front of the very long queues every morning.

She said she would be more than happy if she could have a shelter for her business and hoped to buy a dough mixing machine as mixing by hand strained her arm.