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Brand products, cultural branding and its policing

Most of the product in the area is directly imported goods from China. There are global business such as McDonald’s. Then there are global clothing brands, and counterfeit brands. These products from a global economy are cheap, are desirable and they sell easily. They are good products to sell.

One of challenge that the business owners face is a continued threat from Customs, who routinely clear streets, and sometimes floors in building of counterfeit goods. The counterfeit goods, however, are often highly improvised: they are often new designs in themselves and not copies of originals. I have seen Polo designs from Jeppe Street being worn all across Johannesburg. When Customs come, the energy and rhythms of the street and buildings change instantly. The network of people in this area communicate in a very short short window of time. Shops are closed, and goods are moved. This instant lock down of shops and buildings is then replaced with crowing and looking. Police cut certain locks, and search for goods stashes, seeming to be very well informed about locations and layouts. When the immediate threat of customs leaves the area, new locks are installed, and the trading continues. There are always counterfeit goods, and Customs have a permanent presence in this area. The seizure of goods, and the existence of Customs seems to have been worked into the business plans. However, not all the shops trade in global brands or counterfeit goods, and some follow legal tax paying business models.

Apart from many restaurants, there are plain clothes shops, curtain shops, barbers, and a number of Ethiopian and Eritrean culturally orientated shops that sell music, spices/food, cooking/coffee utensils, and clothes. This cultural aspect is a part of Jeppe which is superficially hidden, partially covered under western clothes. Even a brief time in Jeppe tells that Ethiopians and Eritreans are very proud of their heritage and their culture, and often keen to inform or relay a story from their history. The culture permeates the area especial through speech: in conversations, in restaurants, between shops, while unloading a truck. The restaurants, barbers and hair salons have TV’s playing ethnically specific/traditional music. The restaurant serve traditional food. Several times, I have heard that Ngera, a base made out of a grain (rice flour is the substitute used in South Africa) and sour milk with which to eat your food, is highly addictive. It is so addictive, I have been told, it is more addictive than beer. I think more people should hear this, and more importantly, taste it. The barbers have posters with examples of popular hair styles. It is in these interactions between people, their stories and their objects that this area becomes.

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