Words by Julienne du Toit
Photographs by Chris Marais
There is a mad mystique about trading stores, those ‘sell-a-bit-of-everything’ shops you find in unexpected corners of the countryside.
Some world travellers swear that combing through shops is the fastest way to truly understand the locals, and in these old time platteland general dealers you will indeed discover to a fine degree of accuracy what is needed and treasured by their customers.
Take, for example, C&D Stores in Tarkastad in the middle of the Eastern Cape. It has been going since the 1930s, founded by Chris and Dora Braun (pronounced Brawn), who had previously run a general dealer store in the deep Transkei town of Cofimvaba.
A Fabulous Institution
Their son Denzyl and his glamorous wife Gail took over in the 1970s. They moved the shop a few blocks away to its current location on Murray Street, expanding into a massive space with beautiful pressed iron ceilings and skylights.
C&D is a fabulous institution of a shop. Everyone in Tarkastad passes through its doors at some stage, on the hunt for good shoes or a Shweshwe wedding dress or a bicycle part or a slow cooker or buttons or knitting needles or pliers or a wool coat or funeral wreaths or girl’s Jockey panties.
Denzyl and Gail have clients from the farming community and townspeople who know and trust them.
“In this part of the world, the summers are hot and the winters are bitterly cold. People here value good quality, hard-wearing brands.”
A Browser’s Delight
Apart from excellent jackets and coats, work gear for men, farming boots, Falke socks and very snazzy hand-stitched shoes, they also sell a startling amount of lace curtains, Basotho blankets, large shawls that are compulsory for Xhosa brides, sheets and soft flannel favoured for winter petticoats, Environ cream, bicycles and bicycle parts, slippers, golf umbrellas, good towels and very brightly coloured Indian prints, white blankets for Xhosa initiates and men’s braces.
Betty Botha & Radio Algoa
If you walk in while it’s quiet, you’ll hear the whirr of a sewing machine over the warbling hits of Radio Algoa, and possibly the overlocker too, wielded by shop assistant Bettie Botha and Gail Braun respectively.
“One of our most distinctive lines is Shweshwe fabric and clothing, completely handmade on the premises,” says Gail.
Bettie has been working with the Brauns for 32 years and is a casual genius of a seamstress, able to cut fabric without a pattern.
The Shweshwe Style
Shweshwe skirts (named after Lesotho’s King Moshoeshoe who first popularised it after being presented with this German-printed calico fabric) are now de rigueur for Sotho and Xhosa brides.
Bettie says the local preference for wedding skirts is brown or blue and white, with a matching apron, hauling out a few items to model for us.
“These are worn for three weeks after the wedding, combined with a black doek to cover the hair and a soft shawl around the shoulders.”
The Tartan of South Africa
Shweshwe is also worn to funerals. But this intricately patterned fabric is not only for formal events. It has been called South Africa’s tartan – perfect for formal or casual occasions. Some of the most popular casual skirts emerging from C&D are trimmed with pink, purple or green ribbons, courtesy of Gail’s overlocker.
Interestingly, Shweshwe skirts come with their own distinctive sizing system. An ‘8-panel skirt’ would be for a very slim woman, whereas a ’22-panel’ would be for a much larger matron.
The secret to the Braun’s success is that they genuinely like their customers, know they seek quality – and they are very fond of their staff.
- Contact Denzyl and Gail on 045 846 0267