Cafe Riche Pretoria
Feeling all kinds of sonder I stare out the window of Café Riche imagining all the events that took place here over time. I can’t think of any real events so I start to make them up. I like the idea that Madiba came here for coffee during the Rivonia Trails but I know that’s not true. I also like the idea that Paul Kruger had one of his famous coffees with whiskey at Café Riche overseeing the construction of a young Pretoria. Again I know that he fled South Africa in 1899 and Café Riche was only established in 1904. The story goes that Paul Kruger had a strong coffee with lots of milk and added whiskey for good measure. He drank it from a soup bowl-like mug and whenever he was in a hurry, he would pour the coffee into his saucer for quick cooling and drink it like that. Café Riche still serves this very drink and have become famous for it. When you visit Café Riche on the weekend you may think that it has become a ghost bar, but during the week it has a different atmosphere. Mornings start at a smoky 06:00 and the patrons are mostly military, legal and hospitality people. After that it dulls down for a few hours, the best time for thinking and working at Café Riche – like a big old library that just inspires you to think and reflect. Lunchtime sees every kind of person imaginable, tourists, comrades, Pretorians and just about anyone fancying a snack or a drink. A Russian tourist comes in and asks the staff if they know where he can find some exotic food like elephant. He is stunned when they tell him that South Africans don’t really eat elephant, asking: what, you’ve never had elephant? They point him towards some meat crazy restaurant telling him that’s as crazy and exotic as he’s going to get in the city. When you sit outside you have beautiful views of The Palace of Justice, Church Square and Oom Paul gazing into vacancy with incredible, stoic heroism. You also have the bustling motion of a typical city centre. People heading somewhere or nowhere, cars hooting and pedestrians and the homeless carrying all their belongings around. On the counter behind me was some kind of rye bread that I was later told is a piece of rock representing the struggle for woman’s rights in South Africa. Its slogan is ‘Wathin’t a bafazi, way ithint’imbolodo uzo kufa’ and it translates into something like this: “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock, you have dislodged a boulder; you will be crushed”. This particular rock was used by African women to grind corn into mieliepap (maize) and it would become the rock to symbolize their power, strength and endurance. One of these women where Frances Baard or MaBaard who led the women’s march to the Union Buildings in protest against the pass books and was actively involved in drafting the freedom charter. Then there was the Black Sash founded and ran by white South African women in defense of the constitution. They draped a black sash over a symbolic replica of the constitution and later officially took that name. Nelson Mandela would later refer to them as the conscious of white South Africa. Cafe Riche is definitely female and should be referred to as a she. She just has an air about her, like a muse. So check her out and maybe learn a thing or two.
WORDS and PHOTOS by Ivan Serfontein