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03/24/2011

Mzoli's (Meating People)

Cape Town has quite a few landmarks that need to be visited when you are here: Table Mountain, the Kirstenbosch Gardens, Robben Island and quite a few others. All of the above are world famous – they appear on postcards and memorabilia, they saturate the tourist market to the point of boredom. They are worthy, of course, but after a while they become the same old same old. For any visitor’s stay in Cape Town, particularly any CIEE student, I recommend exploring the popular attractions that don’t make it to the postcards – the urban legends that are either too local or so small to the point that they almost go unnoticed. Cape Town is full of them – one of these urban legends is Mzoli’s, the premier braai spot in the Mother City.

A braai in South Africa is the American equivalent of a barbeque or a cookout. Equivalent in this case is a hazy term to use because equivalent means “the same as” – the two events are similar but so different they cannot be compared to each other. Barbeques always look to calm and ordered on television, so family like, so…organised. Braais on the other hand are anything but. Especially when you are at Mzoli’s.

Located in the heart of Gugulethu, a South African township, Mzoli’s is a small braai house that has specialised in cooking meat to such perfection it has become a Sunday addiction. Anyone who has ever been in Cape Town has heard of the legend that is Mzoli’s, most have tried it, all have come back again. Celebrities, sports stars, musicians, students, tourists and all of the different kinds of people in between have all at some point visited Mzoli’s. You just never know who you will bump into on a Sunday afternoon.

Coupled with the atmosphere, the music and the location, Mzoli’s is one of the few ways of finding out how the other half of South Africa live – the less well-off half. Living in areas like Rondebosch (where the majority of CIEE houses are), you could become complacent and think that all of South Africa is middle class and well off. It is not. South Africa is a place of economic and social disparities carrying their own history and social diaspora – each level is unique and different, no two are the same. A trip to Mzoli’s shows all of this.

It would be presumptuous to call Mzoli’s a restaurant. Restaurants have formal rules: you sit, you order, food is brought, you pay and you leave. No such thing at Mzoli’s – you are allowed to bring anything you want barring the meat which you have to buy there, seats are at a premium from ten in the morning onwards, you have to actually go and order the meat yourself, take it to the cooks and come and pick it up yourself. It is a self-service type of thing that only Mzoli’s has managed to perfect thus far and that I presume, is one of the reasons it is so popular. It is a restaurant, meeting place, club, social scene and a few other things I have yet to find words for.

Mzoli’s is loud. Loud in ways that you cannot imagine – the music, the people, the dancing, everything. Every sense you possess is put to the test by being in the small space – it is not oppressive, just different. It is as South African as anything you will find in the country. Only having been to Mzoli’s once before, I thought that this time around would be similar to the last – it wasn’t. Far from it. Each Mzoli’s visit brings new perspectives, each trip makes you a little more intuitive – it is definitely more than just having a good Sunday braai.

CIEE Cape Town allocates community action plans (CAPs) to each house. The purpose of these CAPs are to allow each house in the program to do something together, to bond and explore Cape Town together. My house, Devonshire (the coolest one of the lot, if I say so myself….*round of applause*), visited Mzoli’s this past weekend. Though it was not completely new for me, it was still an eye-opening experience as a whole because I had to explore the place through my house’s eyes. Besides the meat, which we completely pigged out on, it was a relaxing end to the week to just sit down, be around people we liked and reconnect.

There is much more I could tell you about Mzoli’s...but I won’t. You need to come and see it for yourself. 

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 Rémy Ngamije

 University of Cape Town: Postgrad LLB (Law)

 Resident Assistant


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