It was a damp day when I visited Rosebank’s African Craft Market. The sun was shining wetly through the clouds and the smell of decaying leaves rose pungently from the humid gutters as I approached my destination. Established in 2001, the market is glued to the flank of Rosebank Mall and is imbued with a suitably ethnic feel. I was struck by the earthy smell of the place. Not an offensive scent by any means, yet strangely appropriate in a place crammed with all things African.
The market is spread out over two levels. The bottom level is, if you’ll pardon the pun, much more down to earth, whereas the top level is somewhat more commercialized and quieter. At any rate you won’t be invited to participate in any impromptu drumming lessons as I was downstairs.
The stalls offer a veritable plethora of objects for sale: ubiquitous painted ostrich eggs, ivory utensils, beaded brick-a-brac, baskets, jewellery, soapstone chess sets, shields, pencil holders, ashtrays, miniature drums, Ndebele dolls, rare Lesotho mohair , wooden giraffes, tribal masks, bronzes, whimsical statuettes, t-shirts, caps, belts, hats, shoes, wildlife effigies of every kind…the list goes on. Suffice to say if you want a specific African curio, chances are you’ll find it here.
I was amused when one of the stalls hiccupped a particularly enthusiastic stall owner named Sammy, who was adamant about how completely unique his carved ebony candlestick holders were. Strangely enough I was struck by their ‘uniqueness’ again just two stalls later.
The upshot is that although there is the inevitable product parity and kitsch memorabilia (you won’t have to go far to find a Mandela embossed something or other) there are also plenty of products which are truly unique. For example, where else could you find an intricately carved door all the way from the Ivory Coast?
Practically everyone at the market is entrepreneurial to some extent. Many of those whom I spoke to were self-taught, produced the crafts themselves, or sourced them independently from as far afield as Egypt and the Congo. Numerous individuals busied themselves creating pieces as I browsed. The inventiveness and resourcefulness behind the crafts was also apparent. All manner of materials have been used to create products which are either decorative or functional or both.
Generally speaking, the products sold at the market are of a very good quality and are reasonably priced. It is advisable, however, to shop around and compare as some prices have been escalated to cater to the foreign tourist market. The majority of the vendors are friendly and willing to haggle and it’s well worth it as there are good bargains to be had.
Should you find yourself peckish while browsing the stalls, you won’t have to go far for a good meal as there are a number of eateries in the immediate area. If you feel like a seriously monster shop, rather wait until Sunday to visit as this is when the adjacent B&B Rooftop Market also sets up shop. Over 600 stalls convene on the day to sell quality clothing, ceramics, arts and crafts, furniture and jewellery as well as an array of culinary delights. Voted as Joburg's premier market for many years running, the Rooftop Market is a paradise for shoppers of all creeds.