The so-called Herero Mall is developing into a unique informal market place, to the chagrin of some but a lifeline for others.
By Catherine Sasman
“This is where people come to meet,” says Makena Siwoged as she serves four clients with porridge, large pieces of freshly boiled meat and a cold drink of Oros.
“We understand each other here; we speak the same language. That is how we understand each other. We talk to each other about how we live, what we do with our lives and our traditions,” says the young woman.
“Business is very good because we have our customers.”
She and a friend, Jackey Mungunda, have started a small business, One Kapana Combination, at what is now known as the Herero Mall.
Once called the People’s Place, a patch of open land adjacent to the busy Clemence Kapuuo Street in the Katutura West Constituency, or, in less politically correct terms, the Herero Location, about 17 informal businesses have sprung up, turning the dusty ground into a throbbing business and entertainment hub for the residents of the area, “and everybody else interested”.
Mostly young people have set up shop in big or small containers, small zinc or wooden structures, or simply put up their tables and chairs out in the open under the scorching sun and started doing business.
Others more fortunate have found space under shade trees and set out benches for their clients, or have laid square concrete slabs with zinc roofing from which to trade.
A small office of the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) in trademarked blue-red-white colours stands on the rim of the market, with its tattered flag hanging limply in a lazy wind. Next to it is a popular church, the Oruuano Protestant Church. In the middle of the market square towers the imposing black metal pole of a spray light. A huge bus stands on brick stilts with newly upholstered seats, and wrecked cars form a loosely assembled scrap yard.
Only the barest of structures glue together the skeletal form of the market place, but the place feels remarkably vibrant and alive with people and cars coming and going in an endless stream, the drone of people chatting as they gather around and sitting on anything that can pass as a chair and children playing in the sand, fireplaces with hissing pots of kapana [which is a combination of meat, porridge, and dumplings], water splashing, machines whirring, and hammers thrashing on wood and steel.
“You can find anything here,” says Venauen Tjijeka, a client of the One Kapana Combination.
There are two carwash establishments, barbershops and hair salons, a movie rental place, kapana-upon-kapana stalls, motor and tyre repair stalls, a welding business, small bars operating from under tents and in old caravans, a cigarette and soft drink stand, a place where bundled firewood is on sale, and several meat-cutting shops.
This is the place to be, say traders and clients alike. This is our place.
The beginnings of the market place are rudimentary and organic.
No one New Era spoke to quite knows how – or when – the market place has developed. The one story everyone seems to remember is that an old woman who once lived opposite the open field used to sell kapana under a tree.
She operated at the square alone for a long time before another trader joined her. And so, one after the other, informal businesses have sprung up.
But it was only towards the end of last year that more substantial business started in the area.
What’s in a Name?
“We call this place the Herero Mall because that is mostly the people we see here,” says Siwoged.
“Other people come here too, but it is mostly Herero-speaking people that visit the place.”
The ‘mall’ part of the name, Siwoged and her friends figure, come from the fact that people meet and mingle and do business in a mall, “just like Maerua Mall”, they say.
The name has apparently drawn the ire of some who claim that the name lends to the exclusion of all who are not Herero, and connotes hidden tribalism.
“It is just a name,” insists Siwoged and friends.
“You have a Pick ‘n Pay, the Soweto Market, and Okuryangava. And there is China Town – there is also a tribe like that in Namibia. So why can we not call this the Herero Mall?”
Chairperson of the committee of the business people at the market place, Ernst Jahamika, says the name stuck because business operators, clients and residents around the area want to keep the name “local”.
“And it is mostly Herero-speaking people that do business from here,” he says.
‘Business is Good!’
“Motjavi?” asks Tjijeka from meat cutter. “What are you saying?” Johannes Tjitaura (22) runs a meat cutting business for someone “who works in town”.
She wants to know his prices. To cut up a whole cow costs N$200, and for a calf the price is N$180, “depending on the size”. For small stock it is N$30.
Tjitaura taught himself to operate the electrical sawing machine when he started working at ‘We Cut Meat Here’. He gets between ten and 20 customers per day.
Diagonally opposite Tjitaura is Gisela Karidhawa’s Commando Meat Market, also a meat cutting concern that sells cool drinks and cooked meat alongside.
“Business is good,” says the 27-year-old mother of three. Her prices are more or less the same as the ‘We Cut Meat Here’ establishment, and her clients average ten per day.
Fabiola Kavita (25) has set up her meat stand, Oua-Namake [that means ‘you have to do something with your own hands’] when she could not continue her studies and failed at landing another job.
She runs the stall alone and sells meat and cigarettes on weekdays from nine o’ clock in the morning until six or seven in the evening.
“When you have a business like this you cannot simply close because you think it is time to do so. You have to cater for your customers.”
When she runs out of meat, she asks her friends to keep an eye on her stall, and goes to the nearby Woermann&Brock to stock up.
Sometimes, she says, she keeps on selling until eight or nine at night if there are customers.
On weekends she adds hardboiled eggs and potatoes with spices or a hot sauce, and beer to her sales.
“The Herero Mall is a very interesting place,” says Kavita.
“We understand each other here. People do not fight. I am happy. At first I sat at home and struggled to pay for my school or cosmetics, but now I see myself up there,” she points to the air.
At the Afrikan Movies Buy& Sell shop sits Hileni Ndongo (20). This is her first job since she completed her schooling.
On the walls are covers of American action movies and African movies – mostly Nigerian, says Ndongo. The favourite movies, she says, are the Mr Ibu series, and Osuofia in London.
A stone-throw away is shoemaker Tommy Tjituaiza, a registered professional shoe and leather repairer.
“I have a small business here but it is going smoothly,” he says from behind his counter. I started out here after leaving the Leather Connection because I want to be self-employed. This is my first step before I venture out to town and other places like Otjiwarongo. This is a very nice place to start off from, and I like the fact that you can get traditional food here.”
Basil Kandetu (37) started his welding business, Gazza Welding & Car Exhausts, after trying out a similar business in a rural community in the Omaheke Region.
“There were no customers, but here I can build my business,” he says. He is now employing five people that he has trained. A former salesman for Metro, he says: “If you work in an office and you lose your job you have nothing to fall back on; you will go hungry. But if you work for yourself, you can always make a plan.”
Under a big shade tree is the Omukaru kapana business. Many people have gathered in the cool of the tree, and eat meat and porridge for lunch, sipping Oros from cups.
“People come from their workplaces in town to have lunch here,” says a young man who calls himself a ‘customer forever’ Abia Uhongora.
“This place is inexplicably unique,” goes on Uhongora. “Food here is prepared in the traditional way; from the fire and the pots. It tastes good. Most meat comes from the villages and butcheries; it comes through the right channels.”
Uhongora’s take on the usual clientele of the market place: “The customers are mixed; it is not only Herero-speaking people who come here. You have academics, lecturers, MDs of parastatals, people living in town, VIPs, but also botsotsos. [ruffians]. Why do you think they come here? They are happy to come to the mall. They live in Pioneerspark or Olympia where neighbours don’t greet each other. Here we greet each other.”
By day, says Uhongora, the mall is a place for business. By night, it is for entertainment.
By nighttime, particularly from Thursday to Saturday nights – or braai nights [barbacue] – from all accounts, the Herero Mall becomes transformed. Then new traders come in to take over the business spaces of the day traders, set up their loudspeakers, take down their beer crates and set up their barbacue stands and go on often until the early hours of the morning.
“Anyone can sell at night,” says a source that prefers anonymity.
“All you have to do is to buy five crates of beer, some meat, and go to the mall and start selling.”
Most of the nearby residents’ complaints come from the nighttime activities, admits Jahamika.
“Young people with their boom-boom cars come and park out here, they drink and make a noise,” says Jahamika.
Residents and day traders have at a meeting on Wednesday night with a City of Windhoek representative and regional councilor Benestus, complained about the nightly goings-on at the mall.
Parents complained about their school-going children ending up at the mall and not returning home on until late; residents complained about nighttime clients using the outside toilets of their houses nearby; youngsters using the fences of homes as benches; rooftop stone-throwing ‘when people get excited’; day-time traders complaining that they have to clean up after the weekend revelers on Monday mornings.
Where to for Herero Mall?
“The municipality wants to fire us. Why?” asks Gisela Karidhawa.
“There are no jobs in Namibia. They must give us jobs. I am a single mother and I have to pay school fees and my children want bread to school every day.”
Karidhawa says officers of the City of Windhoek visited the mall late last year and issued traders eviction letters. None of the traders are paying fees to the municipality.
“They gave us two days to pack up and leave. If they want us to leave, they should at least give us two weeks or a month to go,” she says.
“The municipality should not close this place,” agrees Uhongora. “It must be developed, yes, but it is a place of great potential.”
Chairperson of the local traders’ committee Jahamika says the mall is in dire need of proper public ablution facilities and a general infrastructural upgrade.
“But we want to keep it natural. We want trees and space, even if that means that a leaf falls into my plate while I eat. But if the municipality threatens to close this place then they have to stop the traders in China Town where they sell meat from shopping trolleys. We are not messing up here; we are doing business and we are serious about it.”
His committee, says Jahamika, has requested training from SME advisors, and is looking into matters relating to the hygiene of the place and trading hours of all operators.
On Wednesday evening a committee was elected from representatives of nearby residents, traders and the City of Windhoek to trash out some of the problems that have arisen from the mall.
“This is where we want to be, and no-one can chase us away from here,” says a determined Karidhawa.