The Call of the Mielie Lady

The Call of the Mielie Lady

Meet Ester, Parkview's mielie lady

Meet Ester, Parkview’s mielie lady

A familiar sight to the people of Johannesburg, especially in the northern suburbs, is the Mielie Lady.  She can be seen almost daily, shuffling along the streets, hunched over her plastic shopping trolley, shouting ‘MIELIES, MIELIES’, her throaty call echoing all around the neighborhood.

If you’re a visitor, you may not know how important Mielies are to us South Africans.  Especially in summer!  We love to have a braai (barbeque) where we not only grill huge steaks and boerewors (sausage) but also cook delicious mielies (corn on the cob) over the fire, and then eat them, slathered in butter and salt, using our hands, juice dripping down our chins.

The Mielie Lady that I met in Parkview, Esther, works hard. She is not a young woman and yet she spends the day on her feet, in old, broken shoes, pushing a heavily laden trolley, calling out to her buyers…

‘MIIIIIIELIES, MIIIIIIIIELIES!’

If business is slow, or if she is tired of walking the streets, she can be found sitting (usually on crates) outside the Spar Supermarket on Tyrone Avenue.  She does not speak much English, but has a good relationship with the local community – the homeowners, domestic workers and gardeners – and always has a smile.  She is a definite landmark figure!

When I asked to photograph her she was shy.  She was walking with her husband, selling their wares, and they were both wary – and weary. On showing them the photograph, their grins grew.  She insisted on giving me two mielies (freshly picked and fantastic) as long as I gave her the photograph.  A fair trade I thought.

So. If you’re having a coffee in one of our local coffee shops, doing some shopping, or enjoying a nice suburban walk, don’t be alarmed when you hear the familiar cry.

Rather stop, engage, and buy a mielie…or two!