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Shop ’til you drop

If you aspire to a clean life, politicians are the last people you should emulate. I therefore found it hilariously ironic that over the festive season, in the process of trying to give my wife a well-deserved treat, I worked hard at emulating Paul Mashatile, the Gauteng MEC for finance.

Media coverage of Mashatile and how he wined and dined himself and his cronies in one sitting to the tune of R65,000 of the taxpayers money at Auberge Michel, a fancy French restaurant in Sandton was one of the stories of the year that grabbed my attention. And I suppose many readers were enthralled by the stories so much so that they vowed to visit the restaurant that had suddenly become so famous, thanks to Mashatile.

With my year-end bonus safely tucked in my pockets I wanted to impress my wife who’d worked like a slave last year. I thought of an overseas holiday – but crossed it out. Who wants the drudgery of sitting at airports during the festive season, always wondering when the next suicide bomber is going to strike.

I thought of expensive jewellery; nah, she’s already groaning under the weight of gold and diamonds.

And then the idea hit me: take her to Auberge Michel, show her that you can out-eat and outdrink Mashatile!

So, on December 18, I phoned the restaurant to make a reservation. Horror of horrors, an answering machine on the other end told me that the restaurant would be closed between December 16 and January 8. Blame it on Mashatile who has made the owner of the restaurant so rich he can afford to close his outfit during the busiest period of the year.

I sat down to think of a suitably expensive and classy restaurant that could put me on the same level as Mashatile in my wife’s estimation. I simply couldn’t think. My thoughts would always gravitate towards this or that mall. Disgusting.

Not only do I hate shopping, but malls are so garishly impersonal – unlike the corner cafes of old; the supermarkets where the packers and cashiers knew you and shared a joke with you.

It’s such a crying shame that the shopping malls seem to dominate our lives these days. They have mushroomed all over the place. If you are giving someone directions to your house, you invariably have to use a mall as a point of reference. If you tell your friends that there is no shopping mall in your neighbourhood they tend to look at you askance, as if to say: well, well, well which squatter camp do you come from.

Anyway, I ended up taking Mrs. Khumalo to a restaurant inside a mall because I simply couldn’t think about alternatives at such short notice.

The excursion turned into a disaster because instead of it being an outing, it became a shopping jamboree. The meal at the restaurant was relegated to the bottom of the list as my charge was suddenly seduced by almost everything inside that shopping mall – and I had to foot the bill.

At the end of the night, I was inebriated from bad wine and stress over money badly spent at a bad mall.

At these malls you find yourself buying stuff you don’t need – you buy because you are being pressured to do so.

Women tend to have a sympathetic ear to goods that are screaming out to be bought – even if they are not crucial to the running of a household.

Shopping should be about fulfilling absolute needs. It should also be an intimate experience between the shopper, and the store personnel who know exactly what you want, and can even write you in their small black books if payday is still far away and you need a loaf of bread and a litre of milk.

Where are the suicide bombers when we need them? Something should be done about these shopping malls.

Fred Khumalo is an award-winning journalist and Sunday Times columnist and author of the autobiography Touch my Blood and Bitches’ Brew, a novel.

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Justin Arenstein
Justin Arenstein works from Africa. Investigative journalist & #CivicTech strategist. Manages innovation fund tech labs across Africa. Founder @afriLEAKS @Code4Africa @AfricanCIR @HHAfrica Justin Arenstein has over 7519 followers on Twitter.

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