Kwa Mai-Mai, the one-time traditional pharmacy frequented by traditional healers and a handful other customers, has transformed into a large entertainment crowd puller that is frequented by Joburg’s young and trendy. It boasts an intoxicating atmosphere of merriment, food, beverages and friendship.

By Gugulethu Masilela

One of Johannesburg’s renowned muthi (traditional medicine) marketplaces, with a decades old prominence – Kwa Mai-Mai, has remodelled itself.

It has become a sensational cultural and entertainment melting pot brewing new bonds across ages, ethnicity and other stereotypes. Weekends are especially popular for revellers who like to relish an assortment of music genres as well as South Africa’s famed cuisine – tshisanyama (braaied meat).

This historic market and cultural attraction is located in Jeppestown, in the heart of Johannesburg. It is directly beneath the N2 bridge, one of the city’s iconic bridges and prominent part of the Johannesburg’s large road network infrastructure.

Fondly referred to as Ezinyangeni (the place of healers), Mai-Mai, is also famous for selling traditional regalia. But, the shopping does not end there. Small market stall make up the large shopping magnet that has everything from muthi to stylish clothing.

We visited Kwa Mai-Mai recently and were greeted by lively faces of mostly young patrons.  The place was chock blocked with cars and atmosphere filled with thunderous  music from all directions.

Students, young adults, and older people were merriment, with food and beverages accompanying  blissful camaraderie.

We were served by courteous staff at our chosen braai spot who were incredibly pleasant. Once we placed our order, we were presented with a bowl of warm soapy water to wash hands. We then enjoyed a well prepared meat.

The youthful customers caught our attention. Millennials and Generation Z are thought to be all about sophisticated aesthetics and other fancy settings. But here, they seem to forego this pigeonholing.

They were at home with  Kwa Mai-Mai’s minimalist traditional setting without even extravagant menus. The stalls are set out in an open area, with plastic chairs and tables as furnishings.

Our curiosity was tendered to by Kabo Mmereki (27). He is a regular and he told The Telegram that he first visited Kwa Mai-Mai with a taxi driver friend four years ago, and has been hooked.  

“When I arrived, they were playing Maskandi music from a taxi, and we bought a lot of meat at a very reasonable price. It was so delicious, I even had inyama yenhloko (cow head meat stew), for the first time. I also enjoyed umhluzi – a soup made from boiled cow head meat,” Mmereki said.

He is now a regular and is impressed with its phenomenal growth new found fame.

“I am here with my friends almost every weekend to distress after a long week,” he beamed.

But, not all the older regulars are that cheerful. Taxi driver Aaron Nkambule (54) says he and some fellow drivers, are not all that spellbound by this bursting new culture  at Kwa Mai-Mai.

“We can’t go there for lunch anymore because it’s overcrowded with youths with loud music, the so-called amapiano and hip hop. It is disrespectful for me to be sharing a meal with children.

“This was our hangout spot with my brothers. Our brothers from Kwa Zulu Natal used to come here for the meat, but they no longer come this side since Kwa Mai-Mai has become a playground for children,” he complained.

Nkambule said prior to Covid-19, the venue was never full and could only hold a limited amount of people. He went on to claim that it was after the pandemic that the place began to fill up to the point that one could not find a spot to sit and had to eat in the car.

Besides the fun seekers, the place was bursting with commuters who use its array of taxis ferrying passengers to various destinations including long-distance inter-provincial travel.

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