The serving hatch of Christina Mtandana’s takeaway and restaurant looks out onto two different worlds. The dark slab of rock cutting across the western horizon looks surly and featureless at this distance, but it is still the unmistakable flank of Table Mountain, with its hem of pricy suburban homes and a university ranked amongst the continent’s oldest and most prestigious. In the immediate foreground, there is a rectangle of grass that has grown thick and lush on the stagnant water seeping up from the ground beneath. The glassy pond reflects a sky that momentarily allows the glow of weak sunlight through, following one of the coldest fronts to hit the Cape this past winter. It dusted snow across the nearby peaks and poured masses of water down into the natural wetlands upon which many of the settlements on the Cape Flats now sit. A threesome of goats dozes on the edge of the dell, while a single chicken bobs past. Plastic bags, empty bottles, a discarded 5kg flour packet and crushed polystyrene cups litter the greenery.
The serving hatch of Christina’s store—it is called Siqalo, from isiqalo meaning “new start” in Xhosa—is bolted shut. The fryer that usually bubbles away in the front room of her home sits cold and silent. There are no swollen blobs of dough jostling for room in the mesh cradle. There won’t be any customers popping their heads up against the burglar bars to order their usual: a vetkoek, deep-fried dough bread that 40-year-old Christina sells either plain, or with a burger patty, or Russian sausage or jam. The faint whir of the freezer motor is ominously silent. It has been four days since the electricity went off and she hasn’t turned over a penny of business in that time.
“Ja, the electricity went off at noon on Friday. I was still busy with my dough. I had to throw it away because you can’t keep it a long time. It’s about 10 kay-gee [kg] of flour.” That’s roughly 100 vetkoek, she calculates quickly, a total of R200 lost. But Christina is making a plan.