August 22, 2013 @ 12:00 pm - posted by David Beaumont

The Cape town Cryer, South Africa’s Roadside Economy – Part 4


Parking attendants take your money to park, not meters. You give them about 50p for an hour’s parking in central Cape Town and they do something with a calculator that hangs heavily around their necks. I have no idea what they do with it but I seem to have got away without a ticket so far but then again I have never seen a meter maid. If you get clamped, the release fee is about four quid and it’s almost worth it so your car doesn’t get nicked.

protect your car

Every car park has an attendant who politely waves you to a parking space. The car park may be completely devoid of vehicles but Mr Attendant man will still gesticulate furiously at the most inconvenient space. You park where you want, ‘cos you can. He then ambles over muttering something the fact that he is going to keep an eye on it while you are away, hoping for a foreigners one pound tip. Well sorry mate, I’ve been here a while now so I’m afraid that if I do have change, you get one or two rand and if I don’t, you won’t. Jax thinks I’m cruel but then she buys the Big Issue and just looks at the pictures. Rebekah once gave an attendant 5c and he looked mortified; she didn’t know any better!

At the traffic lights, you are nearly always accosted by what we call robot salesmen. Let’s call them Ali and Sundried. They try to sell the weirdest stuff while the robot remains red. There’s “Funny Money,” a little leaflet containing jokes. These salesman wave at you and feign hysterical laughter.

I’m sure this must have been where Ronnie Corbett got his material for all those years in his ghastly jumpers and Granddads thanks.

street hustler in South Africa

At the lights before Sir Lowry’s Pass from Somerset West to Hermanus, there is a peculiar monopoly. There must be fifty Alis and Sundrieds and they’re all selling exactly the same thing, telephone cigar lighter chargers for your mobile. Ali or Sundried, I’m not sure which,  peers into my Citroen and tries to entice me to purchase his anything but unique licquorice-like lace. I point at the one emanating conspicuously from my lighter but they still persist. Why would I want two? Why would I need two? They also sell oversized tennis balls and really crappy sunglasses. I have mine on my face; sunglasses that is, not oversized balls. They sell furry dice; the ones you hang from your rear-view mirror. Locals Africaans, that’s what the mirror is for! At Kenilworth, they pedal coat hangers. We actually could do with a whole load of them. There were not enough in the house when we arrived and we’ve been searching the shopping centres for more with no success. Finally, we have an opportunity to help these poor cash-strapped Africans and so in true British style, we race sheepishly away from the robot too terrified to wind down the window and enquire as to the price. Pathetic, and Jax buys them from a faceless department store a few days later, presumably for a load more spondoolies.

roadside sales

At this time of year, statuesque lilies grow by the road by their thousands. They’re at least a foot high and oddly enough they’re lily white and perfect. They’re like small upside down wedding gowns. It’s illegal to pick them so of course, as soon as you tell anyone something’s illegal, what do All and Sundry do; they pick them and sell them at traffic lights….sorry robots. They would set you back a tenner at M and S at home but cost a few pennies here. Again we avoid purchase of contraband; the local lily police, will track you down. Were there such a thing, surely it would be called Interflora.

South African lilies

But for me the winner is the mobile cartographers. As you pull up at the red light which by definition is frustrating, maybe unless it’s a red light district and from which you are departing suitably relieved, he’ll approach your vehicle with a huge roll of plastic. It will then be gingerly unravelled to reveal a massive map of southern Africa, representing the continent from somewhere not far south of the equator to the Antarctic. What on earth makes them think that the gentlefolk of Cape Town are going to want to buy a map of the south of this amazing continent at a red light? There’s impulse buys, there’s good buys. These guys get a lot of goodbyes. Actually secretly, I want one but I’ll probably get one at Stamfords in Covent Garden when next home.


The blokes here are all huge, not like Americans are huge, bordering on balenic blubber. No, they are just big Boer farmers. They are hairy and for a midget like me, quite intimidating. Shake their hand and fell their knuckles rearrange yours. The rrrrolling of the r’s has an aggressiveness about it which I cannot nail down. As the fear of god is instilled into you by these Goliaths; haven’t met one called that yet, you find out that they all drink Brandy and Coke, and Jaegermeister. Girls drinks and their macho street cred has, for me,  gone for a burton. The girls on the other hand are petite and sweet…mostly. Jamie’s (my son) going to love it here; there’s a lot of eye candy here, no ghastly cockney accents and not too many tattoos or piercings (sorry Janine.)

Jagermeister drink

Food is generally of a very high standard compared to anywhere in Europe and remarkably good value for money. As I write, we have eaten out, the three of us, lunch and dinner today and the sum of both meals with wine was £27. But the portions are related to the size of men, not women. We have ordered dishes that when they arrive would feed a family of four and naturally we just don’t do them justice.

Petrol is 50p a litre and you don’t serve yourself. They check your oil and water and clean all the windows for no extra charge. Beware, petrol has to be paid for in cash. No garages take credit cards. The attendants do not expect a tip.

And last but not least, religion. They are a very religious folk and their religion was invented by William Webb-Ellis, an Englishman. Never underestimate their passion for rugby.

Springboks rugby

More from the Cape Town-cryer soon.


You can check out David’s precious articles here:

South Africa gorilla

About David Beaumont

David took a sabbatical in Southern Africa, a continent which he found humbling. Together with his wife and 8 year old daughter, they upped sticks in 2008, returning over two years later. The experience changed our lives, our outlook on life for the rest of our lives. We no longer run for tube trains; we're just grateful we have them. Our daughter now embraces her education. We covered South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland where our eyes were opened to so many new and different experiences. We have friends for life there now and return annually. Simply, the best decision we ever made!

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