Sowetan Tea and other Strange Customs


This could be Hubby’s house.

From the time that Hubby had received her house, a new ritual had been added to our Christmas routine, one in which my father never participated. Just before we left for the Durban trip my mother would take us to Soweto to distribute the gifts from our family to Hubby’s family. It was not as simple as it seems.

First we had to report to the Soweto permit office and apply for a permit to visit Hubby’s family, this could take anything from an hour to a whole morning, depending on how helpful the police were, or how educated. Then having received the permit my mother who was really beautiful had to convince the police that we would not need an escort, she was not always successful in dissuading the local constabulary that their protection was not needed.

 When we were unaccompanied, the visits were spontaneous and Hubby the snob that she was, had to call all the neighbours so that they could meet her white family as well as to boast about the gifts she and her family had received. One of her old friends always said that one day a jealous someone was going to put a knife in her back. It never happened so they must have just grinned and bore her boastful demeanour.

We always landed up being given a small party on her tiny front lawn, and we met all the residents of her street.

 When we were accompanied by one of the SAP, our visit was very short and the neighbours were nowhere to be seen. The presents were varied in nature, mostly of the clothing variety but there was always an OK Christmas lucky dip box for the younger members of the family. When I think of those lucky dip boxes compared to the junk that is sold today I always feel that the general public is not only gullible, but that they deserve the bad service that they get as they do not seem to have any idea of the value of money. They blithely pay for bad service and substandard products, only complaining over dinner and never with their feet.

I mention the gifts to Hubby’s family because this time we were not taking her with us on our trip to Durban, or at least our trip to the coast as this particular year we were off to destination unknown. Also we were to be staying at a guest lodge with all services laid on, which was definitely for whites only so therefore Hubby was to have a week at home with her family for a change. That year besides the presents, my mother had bought a ton of food so that Hubby would be able to have Christmas with her family before attending the ritual with us.

Once Hubby had lined up all the gifts and food for display in her tiny kitchen she was off to summon the neighbours to the viewing. It was the day that I discovered what ‘Soweto tea’ actually was.

Hubby’s next door neighbour was Shangan, and also ran one of the illegal shabeens in the area. A shabeen is an illegal tavern, and back in the sixties Natives were only allowed to consume traditional beer (sorghum) and not the clear beer of the whites. As the township was always patrolled by the hated SAP, and that clear beer was sold in very distinctive bottles, it was very easy to spot a Native drinking the illegal brew. To get around the police, beer was decanted into a tea pot and the ‘tea’ sipped from tea cups.

The Shangan offered me a cup of Soweto tea, and naturally I accepted, asking for three sugars. I wondered why he gave me a strange look but not for long, it was to be my first taste of Castle beer, the brand that I was to drink for the rest of my life. By the time we left for home I was more than a little drunk and was violently sick in the car before we reached the safety of home. For a change no punishment as it was decided being sick and having a hangover was punishment enough, it probably was.

Lots of Hugs and more,



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