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Soweto's finest

Published 11 February 1996
Style Magazine
136th article

The writing's on the wall: Michael Winner with Wandie Ndala in Soweto (Vanessa Parry)

If you're ever in Soweto, I've got a terrific place for you. "Why should we go to Soweto?" I hear you say. Well, I did. If you don't, it's your loss. Soweto is not as seen on TV. My memory was people burning each other with rubber tyres, African tribes slugging it out with guns and machetes, while Afrikaner police looking decidedly nervous crouching by their armoured vehicles, I met a peaceful community, cheerful, decent, with housing ranging from posh to squatter camp. A spirit of genuine goodwill everywhere.

"Don't wear your gold pince-nez and chain," cautioned Vanessa. "If they want it, let 'em have it," I said. "They deserve it more than me." Thus we got into a nice Mercedes driven by Edward Mtembu. Just in case, we took a charming security chap, Lovemore Mabena, with dark glasses, a black striped shirt, a black bow tie and smart black trousers with black braces. I'm glad he came because he was delightful. As security, we didn't need him. The South Western Townships of Johannesburg house 5m black people. "They say three and a half," volunteers Ed, "but they did the census from a plane and it's growing all the time." It has 23 registered millionaires and a few more whose activities are such they're not keen on registration. We saw some of their houses, then Zulu hostels, fine schools with children in outfits far neater than their English equivalents and then into what was supposedly the danger zone. I never thought it would be, and it wasn't.

At Winnie Mandela's house, tough-looking guards sported a sign on their truck: Guns Not Peace. They were ever so jolly, shook hands and loved being photographed. I had my fortune told by a faith healer in a tin hut, saw where Nelson Mandela used to live and was arrested, and a lady carrying a cake said it was nice to see people like Vanessa and me in their area.

Wandie's Place, I was told, is Soweto's only restaurant. A sign on stilts also advertising Castle Lager tells you you're there. You go in through a wooden door to a tiny, stone courtyard and on into a peaceful eating area with red and yellow tablecloths, two rooms interconnecting and a sign, "No person under 21 allowed". There's a good buzz and a Victorian print of a little girl writing and a cat pawing what she has written. Wandie Ndala comes over and recommends pap (maize) and stewed martin (lamb) with a salad. "We can sit 60 people comfortably, sometimes 100 uncomfortably," says Wandie and laughs. When he hears I directed Death Wish the whole room falls into appreciative silence. I'm led to Wandie's wall of fame, where signatures include Pierre Cardin, Edsel Ford (grandson of Henry) and the Cuban ambassador, among other diminishing dignitaries. I am asked to sign in the middle.

Then we all sat and tucked in. Me, Ed, Lovemore and Vanessa. Wandie did the cooking, then joined us. The lamb fell apart as you touched it, tender and terrific. There was a pleasant, spicy sauce, some sliced bananas and the maize. The atmosphere was rather like a suburban rotary club. The only moment of tension was provided by me. I used their wall phone to call some awful white woman who had sent her ghastly husband to bring me from Sun City to a "Disneyland" dump called Gold Reef City. The drive took three and a half hours when they,d said it was two. They'd wanted me to stay for hours in Gold Reef City. I said I wanted Ed and Lovemore to take me back to my hotel after Soweto. She thought that would not be nice. So I let her have it, somewhat loudly. She hastily agreed. When I came off the phone everyone was looking at me. "Just a gag," I said, patting some diners on the shoulder. They smiled and went back to their meals. They were very impressed I'd been flown to South Africa to judge Miss World. "Give me one of your cards," I said to Wandie, "I'll wave it about when I'm introduced: 1.8 billion people will see this flash of red!" Wandie went to his office. "He's gone to make a large card," said Lovemore, but he came back with a normal one and I waved it like mad when they announced us judges on TV. Well, it was a jolly meal and it was the least I could do. I don't suppose I'll go back, although Ed and I have corresponded a bit. There are days in your life you remember vividly. They mean something in a superb sort of way. They stand out. This was one of them.


I would like to share a Marco Pierre White experience. His London restaurant, the Criterion, is the place to dine if you have eaten prior to your arrival or are on an expensive diet. I ordered spaghetti to start with, which was good, but after four forkfuls I had finished. For my main course, I chose a cod dish. I asked the waiter if I could have fries as a side order and was told, "No, you can only have french fries with specific dishes. So, mashed or boiled?" We then spotted a dish with fries being delivered to the next table. There were eight chips stacked on top of each other in a pretty pattern! As we left, I jokingly said, why don't we go to McDonald's? There was a moment of silence as everyone seriously contemplated it.
Paula Bicknelli, London W11

I was interested to see Mr Winner's comments about the lack of caviar on Concorde. Like Mr Winner I rarely eat on planes. However, I often travel on long haul, always in first class, and the one thing I do eat is caviar. If there is an alternative carrier on the route with a first-class cabin, I will choose them rather than BA. All other leading airlines that I have flown with offer caviar in first class. If you've just given them £5,000 for your ticket, I suppose they consider £25 for caviar a good investment. From a source at British Airways, I know that they received a deluge of complaints when they ceased to serve caviar. Can I suggest that all BA first-class passengers who would like caviar should write to Sir Colin Marshall demanding its reinstatement?
Brian F Carroll, Bromley, Kent