The art of the flea market deal


We were both surprised and mildly shamed by what happened. Bargaining had never been in my nature (I’m sure it wasn’t in his) but I’d decided to give it a try. An exercise in personal growth. Plus, running my own business, I’d grown accustomed to terms such as “asking price” and “offer”; “negotiate” and “deal”. In fact, I’d begun to see the merit of penning a volume on the “art of the deal”, gave the book’s cover a long, hard look on Google Images and set out to gain practical experience.

Milnerton flea market in Cape Town is a veritable training ground for the upstart dealmaker with asking prices rarely breaking the R100 mark. I’d not done badly on the day. I’d shaved R5 off the cost of a mini saw and R20 off a Thule roof rack.

My modus operandi was entry level: I’d turn the item over in my hands and, while looking down at it, ask tentatively: “Can I give you x for it?” which, of course, gave my trade partner the option of simply refusing. (The more advanced, unconscionable method I considered out of reach was to forcefully state: “I’ll give you x for it” while making eye contact and perhaps bouncing the item up and down in one hand.)

I walked up to him with what I guess could be called a swagger — Thule roof rack in hand. I picked up the ratchet/strap device with my free hand and looked it over. He approached me at a brisk pace. “It goes all around the roof of the car,” he said. “How much do you want for it?” I asked. “R80,” he said. “Can I give you R60?” I asked. He hesitated. “Okay,” he said and I noticed his shoulders drop.

“No, R80,” I heard an older woman mumble from where she sat on the step of a kombi behind him. The way she said it, I couldn’t help but think she meant: “Are you out of your fucking mind selling that strap for R60 to this guy with his Thule roof rack?”

He looked at her and then back at me. I had the strap in my hand. He had R60 in his. The deal was done. He knew it, I knew it, the old woman knew it.

And there we stood — mano a mano. He practising the art of not bursting into tears; me, the art of sticking to the deal. It was hard. For both of us.

I walked away overcome by guilt. I couldn’t bear to think what was in store for that young man at the hands of the evil woman, the unthinkable pain she could inflict on him in the back of that kombi.

I stayed my course and headed to the exit of the market holding my head as high as I could muster. Business is business, I told myself. They’re not running a charity, selling saws for R10 and Thule roof racks for R280. Life is tough. He’ll learn from this. At the very least, he’ll let go of his entrepreneurial spirit and enter the service industry — a much better fit. Possibly for both of us.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Hans Mackenzie Main
Hans Mackenzie Main
Writer/Columnist at Mail & Guardian

Related stories

Eastern Cape universities concerned by rising Covid cases

Fort Hare says 26 more students have tested positive while Walter Sisulu University says some of its students have been admitted to hospital.

How Africa can curb illicit financial flows to strengthen economies post Covid-19

The AfCFTA is set to be implemented at the same time as the globe tackles post-Covid-19 recovery. Deeping continental integration can help to boost economies, particularly if stemming illicit financial flows is prioritised

Cape quakes no concern for Koeberg

Last week’s tremor has anti-nuclear campaigners questioning the safety of Koeberg, although the nuclear facility said the plant is designed to sustain a magnitude-seven earthquake

Car review: Shot of S-Presso lacks punch

Suzuki’s budget offering doesn’t do much much wrong but is not particularly memorable either

The young and the rentless: Inside Camps Bay’s “hijacked” mansion

An activist art collective is refusing to leave a luxury holiday home, claiming their protest is to highlight landlessness and growing inequality in Cape Town

Koeberg could power on to 2044

After three decades’ use, South Africa’s only nuclear power plant could see its lifespan extended by 20 years — despite objections

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

The spate of arrests for corruption continues apace in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

Catholic NGO boss accused of racism and abuse in Sudan

The aid worker allegedly called his security guard a ‘slave’

Agrizzi too ill to be treated at Bara?

The alleged crook’s “health emergency” — if that is what it is — shows up the flaws, either in our health system or in our leadership as a whole

SANDF hid R200m expenditure on ‘Covid’ drug it can’t use

Military health officials are puzzled by the defence department importing a drug that has not been approved for treating coronavirus symptoms from Cuba

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday