Market day is every day

Published Nov 13, 2015


Durban - Markets are, by definition, bustling places of enterprise, so it’s little wonder that the traditional medicine market spills out of the area Durban’s Warwick Market designates for the trade, on to the pavement beside a busy freeway on-ramp.

Young men in need of a few rand engage in hard labour, stamping dry bark, roots and wood into powder using heavy metal poles.

“People used to sleep in the ‘muti’ market because they came here to sell from far away,” explains Thembilihle Nyawo who, since the 2010 World Cup was held in Durban, has led walking tours through all the markets within Warwick Market.

“But security now locks the gates to the medicine market from 6pm to 6am. Besides, people don’t believe it’s a good idea to sleep among the traditional medicines because of the link to the ancestors.”

There are many markets within the Warwick Market complex, each with their own way of doing things. Some vendors sleep in their stalls.

Women who sell lime to traditional healers to rub over their bodies sleep in the market underneath an overhead freeway. Then another shift takes over the sales job – and their bedding – as the two groups swop roles and the first shift then heads for Ndwedwe for a stint of lime gathering. They either mine it themselves, or buy it from younger lads who venture into the snake-infested holes.

“Then there are those who sleep in the market by day,” says Nyawo. “They look passed out like drunks, but their story has nothing to do with inebriation.

“They start work here at 4am as barrow operators, taking traders’ goods from the storage place to their stalls.”

A mid-morning nap may be the only opportunity they have to make up for the lost morning hours before they are once again summoned for their services, for which they charge between R10 and R20.

Manhlanhla Mabhuda’s barrow doubles as a bed for those down-time moments.

Maskande music blares out from many stalls.

“Traders like to sell music,” says Nyawo. “CDs go fast. The reason is because they’re cheap. R10 or R20, so many people like to buy music.”

A generator powers Nofumanekile Mpofana’s music system as authorities frequently cut and confiscate wire connections. Traders are for ever calling for improved access to power, says Nyawo.

Electricity is an issue for many traders, from the hair salon – where barber Frankiss Bongani gives two-year-old Afika Chikane a haircut – to the butchery, where Babalo Madiba cuts meat out of two cows’ heads.

When Thulane Khanyile has a little money to spare, his heart tells him what would be good for his stomach. So, he heads to the Bovine Head Cooking Market from his home at Waterloo, near Verulam.

“This is nice meat for us. It’s our tradition,” he explains, sharing a platter with his friend, Ivan Nyalo.

Then he hops down to the floor to show us how he should really be eating it – on his haunches, to show respect. According to custom, only men may eat the cow’s head.

At the Early Morning Market next door, which sells fresh produce and live chickens, Romilla Chetty is not the only person to lament that fewer people frequent the market these days because of supermarkets having mushroomed all over the place.

“Still, our food is 100 to 200 percent cheaper than it is in supermarkets.”

She also says trade would be better if the eThekwini Municipality allowed them to trade longer hours.


A significant section of the market is on the concourse of the Berea Station where trains come and go from as far away as KwaDukuza (Stanger), Pinetown, Kelso and KwaMashu.

Vetkoek and religious clothing dominate the stalls.

“Over the Easter holidays the tailors are sewing day and night because these church uniforms go so fast,” says Nyawo.

That keeps tailors like Malawian Cassim Banda very busy.

Business is expected to boom in December when more people buy for lobola (dowry) purposes.

Grass mats lie in piles, including small ones used to count the money a young man may offer his future in-laws.

In the Victoria Street Market, tradition rooted in India blends with what is authentically Zulu.

Zulu beer strainers, made from straw, hang alongside colourful garlands and Hindu prayer goods.

A heap of curry which goes by the name of “Skop en donner” sits alongside a bowl of betel nuts, which the shop assistant says is “like a cigarette, it puts you on a high”.

l Asiye eTafuleni/ Markets of Warwick Tour runs morning and afternoon walking tours of the market. Tel: 031 309 3880; Cell: 083 708 9782, or visit and

Duncan Guy, Independent on Saturday

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