Informal Glenwood #3: Art and Community on the Woolies Curbside

Glenwood’s informal vendors provide both convenience and savings for residents. In order to spotlight these unsung and often maligned contributions, the Glenwood Collective will be interviewing local individuals active within the informal sector. Check back weekly for a new profile and an ongoing conversation about how we can be a stronger and more inclusive community.


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This week we had a chat with Arab and his fellow Zimbabwean wire artists who are a familiar sight, both working and trading, outside of the Bulwer Road Woolworths. As an important part of the Glenwood community and a constant presence on the Glenwood streets for over eight years now these guys have seen it all. Check below for their thoughts on Glenwood, art, and the power of community.

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GC: Why did you choose this spot to work and sell?
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Arab: Well, we knew that Woolworths would draw a lot of foot traffic. Plus, no other craft workers were selling here, so we thought it would be good spot.

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GC: Do you have a good relationship with the other wire artists in the neighbourhood? Is there a connection between all of you?
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Arab: We are all independent, but we all get along as well. We are all from Zimbabwe and we communicate together. If I run out of a certain type of bead I can call them and see if they have it. It’s a good relationship, we’re all in this together.

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GC: Why is it that all of the wire artists are Zimbabwean? Is it an art form particular to Zimbabwe?

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Arab: No, Zulus also work with beads, but in different ways. I’m not really sure why. I think it is something that just started and has slowly grown and attracted other members of the Zimbabwean community here in South Africa.

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GC: Where did you learn beadworking?

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Arab: Most of us learned in school in Zimbabwe- either primary school or high school. It’s not really formally taught, but taught more as a life skill- how to use your hands. In South African cultures its most often the women who do the beadwork, but in Zimbabwe it’s mostly the men.

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GC: Where do your materials come from?

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Arab: We buy them. The beads come from the hardware stores in town. They’re made in the either the Czech Republic or China. The river beads we buy from local women, and they’re only collected in KZN, along dry river beds. So if you buy something made from river beads you’re buying a product made from local materials.

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GC: What is your relationship with Woolworths after eight years trading on their curb?

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Arab: At the moment our relationship is very positive. I think they see us as good for business. They attract customers for us, and we attract customers for them. They have been allowing us to use their space for overnight storage as well, which has been positive, though it’s been broken in to twice. In the past we have had problems with Metro police and permits, as well as with Woolworths. However, when Woolworths tried to make us move the community rallied around us and convinced the Woolworths manager to let us stay. Now our relationship is very positive.

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GC: As a constant and familiar presence on the streets, how do you relate to the area and the community?

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Arab: We definitely feel like a part of the Glenwood community. We know the car guards and the other traders, we know the people who are just trying to work and those who are looking to cause trouble. We see a lot of crime, car jamming in particular, and we do our best to report it. We have a good relationship with the community watch. I think we function as an extra set of keys to keep the neighbourhood safe. People see us and feel safer. We try to give back to the community as well, because the community has defended us several times, and make up the bulk of our customers. If anybody wants to learn how to do beadwork we offer free lessons- but most people get bored before too long! It’s very monotonous work.

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GC: What changes have you noticed in Glenwood during your eight years here?

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Arab: There is more crime, more car-jamming. I would recommend anybody who visits to check your car to make sure that it locks. I believe that neighbourhood has also gotten younger. More of the older people are moving away, and now there are many more students. Davenport Road is very busy these days.

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GC: What changes are you looking forward to in the future?

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Arab: The municipality is building us a new building to work and sell out of- they call it a craft market. It will have storage, a shop, and a bathroom. Right now, toilets are a huge problem- we have to walk all the way down to Davenport Centre to use the pay toilet. The new shop is going to be where the old public bathrooms were which burned down- just behind us by the power station. We are very excited about that- I think it’s going to be a very positive development for us, the other informal traders, and the community. They are supposed to begin construction in the New Year- so that is what we are looking forward to.

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