Politik  -   Wirtschaft  -   Menschen  -   Reisen            

Steaks under the rainbow

6. April 2010 – 19:25

Entrepreneur Mzoli Ngcawuzele runs a restaurant in the Cape Town township of Gugulethu that is one of South Africa’s top 100 dining establishments. People of all races eat, dance and party together at this multicultural venue.

Loud kwaito music throbs from the open trunk of a car parked in front of Mzoli’s restaurant in Gugulethu. With a wave of his hand, Mzoli Ngcawuzele indicates that the owner should turn it down a bit. The mood is relaxed on this sunny afternoon, and Ngcawuzele himself appears to be calmness personified. Not that he has much time. The smart businessman is extremely busy as the owner and manager of the first township restaurant to be included on the list of South Africa’s top 100 gourmet temples. “And boy, have we earned it,” said Ngcawuzele. “People can see that we’re doing well.”

Visit Mzoli’s on a Sunday, and you’ll see that “doing well” is a woefully inadequate description of the restaurant’s success. Anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 people throng the complex in the heart of Gugulethu on an average weekend – blacks, whites, people from all over South Africa and tourists. DJs play African house, kwaito and hip hop, hundreds dance on the surrounding streets.

But Mzoli’s is more than just a restaurant. It’s a place where the vision of a South African rainbow society has become a reality. For Ngcawuzele, it’s also a goldmine. The businessman’s success story started with a small grocery store; last October he opened a huge shopping mall in the center of Gugulethu. He has faith in the future of his township, runs training courses for local people and provides them with jobs.

“We asked ourselves how we could overcome tensions between ethnic groups, and we adopted a very simple approach,” said Ngcawuzele. “We marketed our restaurant as a rainbow location and it was a big hit with young, aspiring people. We solved the race conflict with a cut of meat. This atmosphere, this vibe, you’ll only find it here in Gugulethu.”

Ngcawuzele avoids using the word ‘I’. He always says ‘we’, in reference to the entire team at Mzoli’s.

He is a popular man in the township, and a well-known figure all over the city. “A pleasant, chatty man,” said Wilhelmina Louw, a nurse who’s known Ngcawuzele since the early 1980s. “His shop was famous back then. People really liked Mzoli and if anyone ever happened to be five cents short, he would always say ‘don’t worry about it’.”

Ngcawuzele makes sure the people from the neighborhood profit from his rainbow business model. A former track-and-field athlete himself, he supports the local sports club. Until a few years ago, he worked as a volunteer himself, coaching young sporting talent. He sponsors AIDS projects and delivers free food to the sick and orphans through local churches.

“We are not greedy, we share,” Ngcawuzele said. It’s a principle he also applies to the business: with the exception of the restaurant’s house wine, he leaves the sale of alcohol to the small shops in the area. Because Mzoli’s has its roots in Gugulethu, all visitors can feel secure. The few security personnel keep a low profile; guests can move around freely and are not kept from what’s going on in the township.

The food is inexpensive, so the fine dining tag is a bit misleading. Mzoli’s offers an authentic township experience. You won’t find any tourist kitsch or troupes of dancers clad in animal skins here. The meat counter offers a diverse assortment of pork steaks, beef fillets, sausage and lamb ribs; the guest puts together his own menu, the grill chefs provide the rest. “I trained them myself,” Ngcawuzele said proudly.

You won’t get a knife and fork unless you specifically request them. The idea is that the guest learns how to eat meat in true Gugulethu fashion. There are spoons, but only for the side dishes. Ngcawuzele recommends pap – the South African polenta – served with a fiery sauce called chakalaka.

A glance at the guest list shows just how successful the concept is proving to be, and how good the food tastes. Mzoli’s recently hosted a 40-strong delegation of African ministers, and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver also stopped by. “Here people can discover what’s really going on in Gugulethu,” said Ngcawuzele. He hopes to be able to welcome even more diners during the World Cup in June. “People from all over the world can have a great time together in Gugulethu.” The township will welcome them with open arms, and no one should feel the least bit afraid – let alone wear a bulletproof vest.

Erschienen in der April-Ausgabe 2010 der African Times.