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Dining in Pollsmoor: The ethics of a prison restaurant

The most expensive meal at Pollsmoor prison’s restaurant, Idlanathi, is R60. Spare ribs and chips. Pollsmoor prison has a restaurant that is open to the public.

Eat With Us. Come and see the caged. Observe us from your table. Taste the dangerous flavours. We love to serve you. 1652. 1913. 1961. 1994. We need to serve you.

The cheapest is a cheese sandwich for R6. Don’t follow the money. That’s distasteful.

Nelson Mandela stayed there, so you can enjoy a meal “close to history’’.

“If you’re brave enough, ask your waiter what he’s in for.’’ LOL.

NO TIPPING ALLOWED.

*

He was in for possessing a bag of dagga in Observatory, Cape Town. He was a rapper. Savage Raps. He didn’t have the R500 bail.

One toilet, 40 men. There was no soap on which to slip. One doctor, 4 000 inmates.

“He was strong, ate healthy, didn’t drink much, didn’t have the money for bail on him. They took him to Pollsmoor.’’

Eight days later he is diseased and later dies from kidney complications after contracting tuberculosis in the overcrowded prison. Her nipples had broken so painfully to feed him. He was fed. She had fed him.

*

She is my second mother. We love her like a family member. She loves me too. She raised me. My Sophie. My gogo What? No she did not serve me. She loves me.

“A restaurant is a place where people pay to sit and eat meals that are cooked and served on the premises.’’

She loves [to serve] us like family.

We pay for her medical aid. She has back problems and migraines sometimes. But we pay.

*

On a Thursday morning: “I’m going to call the police on this establishment. Every time I come here, you always keep my change. Those five cents are mine, my five cents, mine.” He is about 72 years old, tall and staring down at the person in charge of a bakery in Dunkeld in Johannesburg. He is mad. He is shouting. He is disturbing the peace of the chronic, anytime-of-the-day diners and lunchers, the ladies and gentlemen of leisure and business and capital, and business and leisure. The person in charge stands with his arms folded, breathing it all in, reddening, tolerating. What is this elderly man this angry about? I wonder. I stand at the till, bound by a shock I shared with the cashier. I rush out, forced by the wind of the abuse.

*

“The deep fear that we have is that we don’t feel like we belong. We know we don’t belong here. I think that that is what is at the core of white fear,’’ said my former high school teacher to me and a class of 50 last month. I remembered those words as I watched this old man make himself a memory to a group of strangers.

*

On a different day: “Bayadelela lababantu, my sister [These people are disrespectful, my sister],” a soft-spoken Zulu man said to me as he was handing me the card machine.

I was paying for a takeaway chicken liver pasta, a meal he assured me I would like when I asked for his recommendation on something filling. While I pressed the buttons on the machine, he softly explained to me that the person in charge of the restaurant had just asked a customer to leave after the customer barged into the kitchen and aggressively pushed his uneaten plate at the cook, who had added cheese to the customer’s meal after the customer had asked for no cheese.

No cheese? No Parmesan shavings? Shame. On. You.

*

The pasta was so delicious and the portion was so generous, I ate it over three meals. I felt sick afterwards. There are always leftovers for those who don’t need them.

If only guilt magically transformed into money that would bail people out of relentless uniformed service with a smile.

Did you know that Pollsmoor prison has a restaurant that you can go and try out? You know, if you’re bored of the unshackled waiters on Kloof Street. You can take your friend from overseas to show them how things are still done here in Africa.

*

A woman who owns a restaurant in India has put a refrigerator outside her restaurant for patrons to leave their leftovers inside so that any hungry people can eat for free, no questions asked.

Iimbali, a regular column by Friday editor Milisuthando Bongela, is a space for stories and other narrative-based social analysis. 

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Milisuthando Bongela
Milisuthando Bongela is the Mail & Guardians arts and culture editor. She is a multi award-winning writer, blogger and collaborator. She has experience in the arts having worked in fashion, music, art and film as well as a decade-long career in consulting, entrepreneurship, blogging and cultural activism. She is also directing a documentary about hair and black identity, a film she calls the report card on the rainbow nation project.

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