Mashishing's red bus
Driving through Mashishing (formerly Lydenburg) in Mpumalanga, I couldn’t ignore the red double-decker bus parked in a pretty garden on Kerk Street. As I discovered, nor could Rolene Joubert and Marie Jankowitz, who found the bus in a junkyard in Jet Park just outside of Johannesburg, bought it and had it towed all the way home.
The chalk board signs say it all: ‘Keep calm and order something sweet.’
Both Afrikaans teachers by profession, Rolene and Marie had harboured a long-standing ambition to open a coffee shop in their hometown. They didn’t have the money to build anything and were sceptical about how much profit they would make renting expensive premises. 'Besides, we wanted something really different,' Rolene explains.
Their idea for a London-themed café was just the starting point for De Juffrauens, the name of their coffee shop (after being addressed as 'Miss' in the classroom), and visions of tea and crumpets alone weren’t enough. Nothing says London louder than a red double-decker bus, so they spent a year looking for 'their' bus.
It cost more to get it to Mashishing than to buy it, but the reaction alone has been worth the effort and expense. 'People couldn’t believe it and called us crazy,' laughs a delighted Rolene. 'Since then, though, we’ve had people coming in, telling us either it’s the first time they have been in a bus like this or, especially for the English ladies, that eating here takes them on a trip down memory lane.'
The first time that they thought about their project in the context of South Africa’s history, in which British and Afrikaners came into conflict in the area prior to and during the Boer wars, was when a dominee (a minister in an Afrikaans church) took umbrage and said he refused to drink tea under the British flag. 'We had food, not history, on our minds when we came up with the idea. Besides, if we listened to what everyone said all of the time, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere,' says Rolene in a no-nonsense way.
Never having been to London didn't stop them either. 'My mother-in-law went to London, and for her the hop-on, hop-off red buses were a highlight,' says Marie. Some research on the internet and reading up about London was all they needed to start transforming the bus into a restaurant.
It has had its ups and downs, 'but we’ve focused on the details, kept a sense of humour and we have a great team', says Rolene, pointing to Eddie Kjopane, Poppy Sibiya and Magdeline Katjine, who work at De Juffrauens and seem almost as proud of the restaurant as its owners.
The food they serve isn’t 'typically' English, but it is tasty. 'We asked people in the town what they wanted and have tried to use that to make our food, with a twist to make it different,' says Rolene. A favourite from the menu is Juffrauens se langpouse lunchbox, which is an open sandwich with cheese, chicken and bacon. You can also order an Engelse tee (English tea) with Lady Di chocolate cookies.
The chalkboard signs say it all: 'Keep calm and order something sweet'; 'Boerewors (a traditional South African sausage) quiche – a must taste'; and my personal favourite, one which the dominee would do well to read, 'At this bus here, we’re unique. We drive in a friendly way, eat lekker (Afrikaans for nice) and love one another.'
It’s not the first time I’ve been surprised by Mashishing, and its creative, original residents. Its historic sites and buildings are also worth exploring. So the next time you’re driving through, stop for a while and 'hop on' the big red bus.