WASH: the new way to socialise

2010-12-21 00:00

THERE’S a live band playing, the smell of shisanyama hangs tantalisingly in the air and the sound of laughter entices people towards a large thatched building.

Is it a restaurant? Is it a tavern? No, it’s a car wash. Signs of activity first began in 2009 on the site of Bha’s Car Wash on Mbubu (Sweetwaters) Road. Since then, owner Xolani Ndlovu has created a complex that hums on weekends, especially Sundays.

Ndlovu grew up in Sweetwaters, studied quantity surveying and worked in several places as a project manager, including Johannesburg. That is where he came across a car-wash business that was more than just a car wash. “In Tembisa on the East Rand I visited a car wash that was like a social club, a place where people gathered to socialise, eat, drink and relax while their cars were washed. There are also well-known ones in Alexandra and Soweto. I knew then that this was an idea I wanted to bring home to Pietermaritzburg.”

The name of the venue comes from Ndlovu’s childhood nickname: Bhadazela. With its distinctive triangular roof line, the complex includes a covered washing bay, a seating area for clients waiting for their cars to be cleaned, and an extensive entertainment area. This traditional thatched building houses a lounge area with a big-screen TV, pub, kitchen and deck overlooking the neighbouring plantation.

Using his professional quantity surveying skills, Ndlovu plans to build a children’s playground and, eventually, chalets for a bed and breakfast. He leases the 3 200 square metre property from the iNgonyama Trust on a 99-year lease as the land is owned by the Mpumuza traditional authority.

“People come not only to have their car washed, but to socialise, relax and enjoy a meal and a drink,” Ndlovu explained. His kitchen serves traditional dishes like tripe and braaied meat, and a live band performs on Sunday afternoons.

The venue is packed during sporting events like football matches and Sharks rugby games. “But only the Sharks,” Ndlovu laughs. “We support them but not yet the Springboks.” Ukhozi FM also broadcast live from the venue during one of the World Cup football matches.

The car wash is fast gaining a reputation as a function venue and there have been several private parties and a wedding there. Bha’s customers come from all over the city, from as nearby as Sweetwaters, Blackridge and Hilton, and as far away as Panorama, Imbali, the CBD and Howick. To ensure the sustainability of the car wash, Ndlovu is working to establish contracts with local businesses and other organisations to wash their fleet of vehicles during the week.

According to him, commercial car washes like his grew out of the groups of people, mostly men, who would gather to wash their cars on township streets over weekends. “While doing this, they would also make a braai, enjoy a few drinks and so a street party developed.” Explaining the trend for car washes to become venues for cross-cultural socialising and entertainment, Ndlovu said: “Cultural diversity has not yet permeated into the formerly white suburbs. While many black people want to live in the suburbs and have moved out of the townships, they go back to the townships to relax, socialise and to practise their culture, like slaughtering an animal or holding a celebration. I live in Prestbury but I go back to Sweetwaters to do those things.

“The site of this car wash between townships and suburbs makes it an ideal place for people from different, formerly separate suburbs to meet, socialise and learn about each other’s culture in a neutral venue. This can help our culture to be integrated into suburban life as people begin to understand and respect our customs. In Guguletu, Cape Town, Mzoli’s Place is a car wash that is very integrated and people of all races go there, so I know it’s possible.

“I want to build a B&B because overseas tourists who come want an authentic African experience and this venue offers that. It is also close to the townships where there are other tourist initiatives they could enjoy.”

Looking out over the property, Ndlovu says: “It is great to sit on the deck in the evening, relax and watch the sunset. We have had white people who came to have their cars washed and ended up spending several hours just chillling and socialising with us.

“I have a dream of seeing people from all the city’s communities sitting under umbrellas enjoying the outdoors, relaxing and socialising while their children play together and their cars get washed.”

ANOTHER new car wash that has become a popular social venue in the six months since it opened is 033 Lifestyle Centre in Imbali. Co-owner, Pietermaritzburg-born Bonga Ndaba, said the vision that he, his partner Malusi Ntshangase and general manager Bongani “Gana” Mhlongo have is “to be KwaZulu-Natal’s African township experience venue of choice. We aim to provide a comprehensive township experience in a lifestyle centre offering a car wash, barber shop, bottle store, butchery, pub and a restaurant serving shisanyama and traditional cuisine.

“Apart from local residents, we target South African and international tourists. We aim to put the City of Choice firmly on the global map, which is why we chose the Pietermaritzburg telephone code, 033, as our name.”

The centre hums on weekends, employing over 50 people, and offers entertainment in the form of local, provincial and national musicians, DJs and comedians. Mhlongo said customers come from all over the city, not just the townships, as its Facebook page shows, and the response so far had been “wonderful”. As many as 1 000 people pass through the centre daily on weekends. It has become a popular venue for private parties in the exclusive VIP suite that seats 12 and the bigger pub and restaurant areas that have hosted several birthday, anniversary and Christmas parties. The hospitality area targets an exclusively adult market so children are barred from the pub and restaurant, but the car-wash precinct is family-friendly.

Ndaba said: “We are committed to giving back to the community we operate in”, and they have been involved in several social investment initiatives. These include regular donations and fundraising for the Sekunjalo Project, supporting a Nelson Mandela Day lunch at a children’s home, supporting the Abstinence Walk from Durban to Pietermaritzburg and contributing to Christmas parties for a clinic and a primary school.

TO make sure that his patrons don’t drive home when they’re over the alcohol limit, Xolani Ndlovu of Bha’s Car Wash on Sweetwaters Road runs a shuttle service. “I have a vehicle set aside for this purpose and two of the car washers have licences so we can drive customers home in their vehicle if they should not be driving. Sometimes people leave their cars here overnight and fetch them the next day. I definitely encourage my patrons not to drive drunk and provide this service so that they don’t have to.”

033 Lifestyle Centre does not offer a chauffeur service, but general manager Bongani Mhlongo stressed: “We are a lifestyle venue, not a shebeen. We encourage patrons not to drink and drive by appointing a designated driver or taking a metered taxi home, especially if they come from far away.” He said management would intervene if a customer wanted to drive when over the legal limit because “we do not want a drinking and driving incident associated with our name — that would damage our reputation, so we try to ensure that it does not happen”.

CULTURAL DIVERSITY HAS NOT YET PERMEATED INTO THE FORMERLY WHITE SUBURBS. WHILE MANY BLACK PEOPLE WANT TO LIVE IN THE SUBURBS AND HAVE MOVED OUT OF THE TOWNSHIPS, THEY GO BACK TO THE TOWNSHIPS TO RELAX, SOCIALISE AND TO PRACTISE THEIR CULTURE, LIKE SLAUGHTERING AN ANIMAL OR HOLDING A CELEBRATION. — Xolani Ndlovu

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