Of Mandela Day and Mealies

By Tasmi Quazi '


One of Mandela’s greatest statements on social justice. Image Source: here.

18 July 2013 marked the 95th birthday of former President, Nelson Mandela, revered as “Tata” (Father) of the nation, and it marks the fourth International Mandela Day since November 2009. The campaign’s message is simple; Mandela gave 67 years of his life fighting for social justice and human rights. Accordingly, it asks that individuals, groups and corporates use just 67 minutes of their time on 18 July to give back, whether by supporting a charity or serving the community. The aim is to encourage positive change, no matter how big or small the action, just as Mandela did.


AeT staff (Chantal Froneman, Tasmi Quazi & Mongezi Ncube) who volunteered as assistants to Mealie Cooks for Mandela Day. Photo: Toe Shozi.

In this spirit, Asiye eTafuleni (AeT) staff members, decided to part from their office-bound activities, roll up their sleeves and volunteer their services as assistants to Mealie Cooks in Warwick Junction for 67-minutes of service for Mandela Day. As usual, the 67-minutes protracted to several hours because there was a great deal of work to be done as novices to the intensely industrious sector.
For some South Africans, the mention of mealies induces a chuckle remembering a recurring character, a woman street vendor, from the satirical comic strip Madam & Eve. Like other itinerant informal traders passing by affluent suburbs known for calling out what they are selling, this vendor is known for her bellowing of “MIELLIES!!”. Whenever she vends her mealies past Madam & Eve’s house, “Mother Anderson” frequently gives chase, wielding a slingshot at her for having interrupted her nap.

Madan & Eve strip making a satirical comment about the trends of “gated communities” in post-Apartheid South Africa.. Image Source: here.

However, a little known fact is that mealies are not only a coveted snack in many South African homes but a highly popular fast-food snack on the streets, known as “corn-on-the-cob” or maize in other parts of the world. It is relished on the streets in either boiled or roasted form. This high local demand means that the mealie facility tucked away in Warwick Junction, is always bustling with productivity

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A boiled mealie, one of the popular fast-food snacks on the streets of Warwick Junction. Photo: Tasmi Quazi.

According to the book, “Working in Warwick” which elaborates the socio-economic dynamics and urban management challenges of this livelihood activity:

“… it was calculated that in mealie season between 120 and  140 people were involved in this activity and between 26 and 28 tons of mealies were sold on Durban’s inner city streets a day. The gross turnover from this informal activity was calculated as over R1 million a week.

The method used for boiling mealies involves building large wood fires around 200 litre steel drums – a potentially dangerous process if carried out along sidewalks filled with pedestrians. Initially, however, this is where it took place. If the (iTRUMP) Project had not found a solution to this, the council would have had to close down an activity that was making a substantial contribution to the economy as well as providing a low cost fast food.

An interdepartmental task team was put together to work with the cooks to find a solution. The story of how a solution was found that satisfied both the mealie cooks and the municipality makes for interesting reading.”

To read further about the “cook-off” challenge which led to the relocation of the Mealie Cooks to their current facility, refer to Chapter 3, pages 74-76 of the “Working in Warwick” book. Click here if you do not have a copy of the book yet.


A member of the public on the far right who came to the Mealie facility to buy a boiled mealie to snack on, from Mealie Cook Zanele to the far left being assisted by AeT intern, Toe Shozi, in the centre. Photo: Tasmi Quazi.

The Mealie Cooks’ facility was hence provided by the Municipality’s iTRUMP unit in 2001 and upgraded with the help of AeT in 2009. Since 2011, AeT in partnership with the Mealie Cooks and the Project Preparation Trust (PPT) have been exploring further strategies to enhance livelihoods of mealie cooks and sellers in the urban realm.

To view the album from the 67-minutes of service for Mandela Day, click here. To read about other activities and events AeT has initiated for previous Mandela Day’s, click on the links below:

Occupational Health Campaign for Mandela Day
World Sight Day & Mandela Day

Article Sourced from www.aet.org.za

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