Making a living from pap

Ketayi Madzokere (Mai Mutsa) is a determined business woman.Photo by Tariro Washinyira.

Tariro Washinyira

28 August 2015

Ketayi Madzokere, 34, affectionately known as Mai Mutsa by Zimbabweans and her customers, is a soft spoken but determined business woman.

She has a restaurant in the African Women Market on Long Street. Specialising in halaal African dishes, her clientele is mainly made up of Zimbabweans, Senegalese, Cameroonians, Burundians and Tanzanians. She says tourists also enjoy her pap, and they prefer to eat it the African way, with their hands. Only a few of them request cutlery.

Madzokere holds a City Guilds Secretarial diploma; she worked for the Cagil Cotton Company in Zimbabwe before she moved to Cape Town in 2008.

She says, “Getting a secretarial job was difficult for me as the prospective employers made it clear they wanted to employ bilingual people. I then worked as a manager in a bar and restaurant owned by a Zimbabwean person. While I was working in the bar, I had the idea for the restaurant.”

Ketayi Madzokere serving her first customers of the day. Photo by Tariro Washinyira.

In February 2014, she started cooking meals for sale. Getting the business started was a challenge. Her husband, an IT specialist was still building his career and could not help. She earned very little. The day Madzokere opened her business, she did not have money to buy meat and ingredients. She borrowed R2,000 and was charged 30% interest. She had to improvise; the dining table was a wooden door covered with a table cloth. Affording enough space for storing, cooking and serving has also been a challenge.

“The Zimbabwean soccer team was the first famous group I hosted in my small place, [one room] which I used for both cooking and serving customers. The equipment was also limited. I used a one-plate stove. But today, I own a very big gas stove and lots of equipment.”

“Word is spreading fast, like a veld fire. Sometimes I am also amazed. But what I noticed is, if I serve a new customer today, next time the customer brings more than three people and they keep on referring their friends.”

What makes her pap special, she says, is that “it is the same pap and same recipe we were taught by our elders when we were growing up. Other people in the same business pack pap in plastic packages and sell later. But I cook big pots of pap continuously and we leave it on low heat, thus serving fresh pap.”

She serves pap with kapenta (a favourite Zimbabwean fish), beef stew, free range chicken or ox hooves. Meals are served with green cooked vegetables, dried beans, and a salad. She also serves pap and vegetables in peanut butter sauce.

“In this business, food presentation is important; when our customers come, they have expectations and I go an extra mile to satisfy them. We put lots of time and effort to prepare the meals. We have been here since 8am but it is now past 11am; the food is not yet ready. We are still preparing and you have seen how I turned away customers who were here early.”

Another reason she feels her business is doing well is due to her experience in business administration. “It helps, having customer care and management skills,” she says.

Madzokere’s day starts at 5:30am. When she isn’t buying stock, she goes to work directly. She helps with everything in the kitchen, and she plays hostess, takes guests orders, serves and clears the dishes.

She is glad her three employees are reliable and know the menu. When she finishes work at 8:30pm, she must still go to shops and buy supplies for the following day. She is open seven days a week. Madzokere takes turns with the other employees for time off so she can spend time with her two children and husband. During the week, a child minder helps.

She says closing time has become a challenge to her. Many customers only finish work after nine and would love to eat before they go home to sleep.