AFP
Wire Service
2 minute read
23 Dec 2021
5:45 am

Soweto’s ice cream vendor keeps generations smiling

AFP

Mtshali fondly recalls the round baby faces of his first customers, now adults, who today send their children to his van, coins in hand. 

A resident buys ice cream from Sipho Mtshali's ice cream truck in Soweto on November 19, 2021. - The sing-song of Sipho Mtshali's ice-cream van has drawn hoards of excited children since South Africa's apartheid years, delivering smiles and creamy cones even during the violent liberation struggle that rocked Soweto. (Photo by EMMANUEL CROSET / AFP)

The melody of Sipho Mtshali’s ice cream van has drawn hordes of Soweto children since South Africa’s violent apartheid years, flocking to lap up creamy, soft servings.

Decades later, Mtshali is still going strong. 

Now 63, Mtshali says he has worked “Monday to Monday” for the past 45 years, driving through the hilly township that spawned South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela. 

Even during the violent liberation struggle that rocked Soweto during the 1970s, he stayed the course.

Only the winter weather occasionally stops him.

“If it’s cold, you get the rest,” said the native of Soweto, where students rose up against white-minority rule in 1976.

But politics have never been Mtshali’s thing.

“I have seen people grow up from the ice cream car,” he said, noting that prices were lower during apartheid, which officially ended in 1994.

Today he charges eight rand (50 US cents) for a swirly serving of strawberry or vanilla. 

Add a couple of rand for a sprinkle of hundreds-and-thousands or another crunchy topping.

Mtshali fondly recalls the round baby faces of his first customers, now adults, who today send their children to his van, coins in hand. 

“They were young when we started,” he said, serving some people directly through their car windows.

Under a bright summer sun, Mtshali drives slowly past small, identical, brick and iron-roofed houses built for black labourers on the outskirts of Johannesburg during apartheid.

He has to cut the engine to switch on his Italian ice cream machine.

“Can’t do both at the same time,” he muttered, blades churning in the background.

The small technical glitch does not dent his passion for the smiles he generates.

“As long as I’m alive I’m gonna do it,” he said. “Everybody is happy with ice cream.”