Vendors talk about Covid-19, resilience as Rosebank Market springs back to life

The market, which reopened months ago, is trying to shed its image as a tourist attraction

20 October 2020 - 13:30 By Khanyisile Ngcobo
A general view of the Rosebank Sunday Market.
A general view of the Rosebank Sunday Market.
Image: Khanyisile Ngcobo

As citizens cautiously embrace the further easing of restrictions under lockdown level 1, many have made a return to their favourite weekend jaunts such as theatres, beaches and markets.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced last month a move to level 1, which included the reopening of all economic activities as well as the opening of the country's borders, with conditions.

For some this meant preparing for that special trip, or finally watching that highly anticipated movie, while for others it meant a visit to their favourite markets like the Rosebank Market.

While the vibrant market reopened months ago,, it took a while for many vendors and even customers to make their return.

The market's marketing and social media consultant, Louise McAuliffe, explained that while trade was picking up at the market, many locals remained unaware of the return to normal. Another hurdle is the perception that the market is a tourist attraction.

“A lot of people ... actually say that Rosebank Sunday Market is a tourist attraction, that it's mainly got curios and things like that - but it's not. It's so much more than that,” she said.

“Markets are communities, they are families and it's incredible how they band together and help each other. Sometimes they barter and do trade exchanges and things like that.”

McAuliffe, who also has a stall at the market, spoke of the resilience and strength of the vendors at the market, especially during lockdown.

Some were forced to rethink how they market and sell their products, others found innovative ways to stay afloat in the face of a cash crunch.

One such vendor is Mkhuseli Maseko, who manages an organic veggie stall with his mother Maria at the market. Maseko spoke of how the lockdown forced them to rethink how they do business.

Mkhuseli Maseko and his colleague Samson at their stall at the Rosebank Market.
Mkhuseli Maseko and his colleague Samson at their stall at the Rosebank Market.
Image: Khanyisile Ngcobo

“It was difficult. Before Covid-19, we never had a delivery service. So when people were under lockdown, I came up with an idea: people can't come out to shop, so how about I start a delivery service?”

He and his mother grow organic vegetables to sell at the market, including more exotic produce that he says a lot of people are not necessarily exposed to.

Maseko was not the only vendor who had to find an innovative way to survive lockdown. Sibongile Ndebele, 58, who sells stylish and unique knitwear at the market, also shared her story.

Ndebele, who's been knitting and crocheting for 52 years and has helped empower battered women through knitting, touched on the impact lockdown had on her work and how she managed to stay afloat.

Sibongile Ndebele with some of her knitwear.
Sibongile Ndebele with some of her knitwear.
Image: Khanyisile Ngcobo

“I met a lady from Greece who wanted us to make jerseys for her, but because people can't travel ... this affected our business a lot,” she said.

Ndebele revealed how she kept going despite the lockdown, saying she ensured she had enough material to produce more items to sell in winter.

For one young vendor, however, lockdown was the perfect opportunity to turn his hobby into a money spinner.

Anathi Bukani, who worked for an art gallery that operated on multiple cruise lines before lockdown, founded Gxarha, a leather goods company that creates handcrafted leather goods.

Some of his crafted items include customised card holders, wallets and bags.

Anathi Bukani with some of his leather goods.
Anathi Bukani with some of his leather goods.
Image: Khanyisile Ngcobo

The fine arts graduate shared the genesis of his fledgling business as well as the intricacies and challenges in creating the different items.

He also spoke of the challenges in growing his business, revealing that he was currently funding it himself but was hoping to secure more funding.

“Right now it's picking up, but it's not where I'd like it to be. It can't cover my salary ... what I've been doing is reinvesting all the money I've made here,” he said.

“I'd like to build a solid legacy as far as a brand that is particularly South African ... It's very difficult to say a unique brand because leather is leather and Africa is Africa, but I am focused on making this a premium African brand.”

McAuliffe hailed the strength and resilience of everyone involved in the market.

“ During Covid-19, they had nothing. There were so many sectors that had financial assistance that they could apply for; this sector got nothing,” she said.

“Some of these businesses are broken, they're never coming back. But there are entrepreneurs that have sprung up, doing whatever they can ... in a way that's little miracles.”