Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Have your Cow & Eat it - Baragwanath Taxi Rank, Soweto - Johannesburg


"Meat makes a man to stay healthy. Ever since small I am eating the meat. And you see there is no gout." Oupa Sithole, Baragwanath Taxi Rank, Soweto - Johanesburg

Thembisili Kubheka, his glowing face wreathed in smiles, laughs boisterously at something a hawker says and proceeds to calmly pop out a cow's eyes before cutting its tongue off. Completely engrossed in the task before him he doesn’t notice the horrified, incredulous looks on the faces of the tourists leaning over Baragwanath Taxi Rank’s bridge railings, in the heart of Soweto, Johannesburg.

A girl bolder than the rest in the group waves and asks what they’re doing. Momentarily distracted as his friends tease him in Zulu, he laughingly calls up, inviting her to join him at the makeshift table laden with raw meat and see for herself. When she joins the bloody group they merrily give her a practical hands-on education about the most effective ways of removing meat from a cow’s head. It’s a messy job to the uninitiated.

Thembisili and his friends work for Oupa Sithole who sells meat at Baragwanath Taxi Rank, the biggest and busiest taxi rank in Soweto. Oupa buys raw cow heads, which is locally known as 'skobo’ and gets his workers to chop off all the meat. Thembisili says "…nothing is wasted, ears, eyes, tongue, the whole head, all goes in the pot to be boiled”. The meat is boiled in two huge pots and when ready is seasoned with chilli salt and served with rice or pap. By all accounts, one “ngca” meal!

But there is a price to pay for this plate of food. According to the South African Meat Safety Act of 2000 the sale of meat from an animal not slaughtered in an abattoir is illegal and unfit for human consumption.

Notwithstanding the above, slaughtering cattle at weddings and funerals held in townships and then eating the meat is a regular occurance. It’s a practice dating back to mankind’s very beginnings and remains a crucial part of black male culture. Oupa obviously understands this which is why he makes a good living. And judging from the queues of loyal, satisfied customers, he’ll still be in business until the cows come home.

Now on the off chance that cows’ heads don’t quite your tickle your taste buds, you may want to consider taking the long walk to freedom and heading for Vilakazi Street, the most famous street in Soweto. Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winners, call this street home. And so does Sakhumzi Maqubela, proud owner of Sakhumzi’s Restaurant.

Sakhumzi’s is a fine example of business thinking gone very right. “I used to like to sit outside with my friends watching the tourist visiting Madiba and Desmond Tutu’s house, and drink”, said Sakhumzi, suddenly coughing into his hand to hide a devilish grin and dancing eyes, “water that is… nothing else. But getting the umm … water on the other side of Orlando was a real mission so I began thinking of starting my own waterhole”.

These days a trip up Vilakazi Street is synonymous with a visit to Sakhumzi’s. Brimming with visitors both local and international, it’s a welcome surprise bursting with enough African cosmopolitan flavour and vibes to tempt any taste bud.

And the rest is as they say, history.