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Posts tagged ‘Nando’s’

Eating Nando’s in Gaborone

I spent most of last week at the biennial gathering of historians organised by the Southern African Historical Society. The conference at the University of Botswana was fantastic. Gaborone was, well, less so.* I think that the city is best summed up by an exchange between a conference delegate and her husband, who had spent the morning exploring downtown Gaborone. When asked what he had discovered, he answered: ‘There’s a Nando’s.’

This comment is interesting for many reasons. One of the most striking features of Gaborone – other than the many posters for visiting gospel choirs and the absence of any form of newspaper advertising – is its malls. Having had lunch and dinner at two of them, it seems to me that most of the major shops and restaurants in the city are branches of South African chains: from Spur, that staple of middle South Africa, to the relatively upmarket Primi Piatti. Given the hostility which locals appear to reserve for South Africans – and relations between the two countries became particularly tense during the late 1980s, when ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe exiles in Gaborone became the target of the apartheid state’s raids – this felt deeply ironic at the time.

Nando’s is an odd addition to the pantheon of South African culinary exports. In his speech delivered at the University of Cape Town during his recent visit to the country, Barack Obama referred to Nando’s – alongside the vuvuzela and Freshlyground – as prime examples of South African institutions. But like so many cultural icons which seem to embody national identity, Nando’s was founded by immigrants.

When I mentioned to friends in the UK that Nando’s is South African, I was often greeted with expressions of confusion. Surely, they argued, it’s Portuguese? Well, yes and no. Before its devastating civil war, Mozambique was a popular destination particularly for young, white South Africans. They visited its pristine beaches, its fun capital Maputo (Lourenço Marques before 1975), and ate its excellent and distinctive cuisine. Indeed prawns from Mozambique are still a regional delicacy. Radio Lourenço Marques – which could be picked up in South Africa – played the music banned by South African broadcasters. Mozambique represented, for young whites at least, relative freedom from the restrictions of a repressive and oppressive South African state.

For part of its civil war (1977-1992), South Africans escaping the country travelled to Mozambique to join up with the exiled ANC. Moving in the opposite direction, legions of whites migrated southwards to South Africa after Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975. Two of these exiles founded Nando’s in Rosettenville, a Johannesburg suburb with large ex-patriot Portuguese populations from Mozambique and Madeira. Although by no means the first or only chicken fast-food restaurant in South Africa – local Chicken Licken (opened in 1981) and foreign KFC (introduced in 1971) do a roaring trade – Nando’s distinctiveness lies partly in its adaptation of the hybrid Afro-Lusophone cuisine which developed in Mozambique.

The chain is probably best known for popularising peri-peri – a sharp, spicy sauce which is a feature of both Portuguese and Mozambican cooking. Its name derives from the Swahili word for the African bird’s eye chilli – the pili pili – which was taken back to Portugal by traders who had been present along the east African coast since the sixteenth century. Portuguese piri piri sauce entered Mozambique with the advent of white settlement, where it was re-adapted by Africans.

Nando's comments on the Protection of State Information Bill.

Nando’s comments on the Protection of State Information Bill.

Following the first wave of white South Africans to leave the country during the transition, Nando’s opened its first overseas branch in Australia in 1990. Franchises in the UK (1992), Botswana (1993), Canada (1994), Malaysia (1998), Pakistan (2001), and elsewhere followed. It now operates in the United States and around southern Africa. It doesn’t, as far as I can tell, have a branch in Mozambique.

Nando’s menu is very obviously the product of the long interaction between Africans and Portuguese interlopers over the course of around four centuries. It purveys a global cuisine, and one which has become increasingly globalised as it adapts itself to the tastes and expectations of new countries and new customers. The restaurants in the UK, for instance, are noticeably more upmarket than the Nando’s outlets in South Africa. It’s also the product of the geopolitics of late twentieth-century southern Africa. It was founded as a result of white Mozambicans’ migration to South Africa in the mid-1970s, and catered to local enthusiasm for Mozambican cooking both among migrant Mozambican mine workers as well as those whites who had holidayed in Mozambique. Its first attempt at opening an international store accompanied white South Africans’ migration to Australia.

And yet, for all its hybrid identity, Nando’s identifies itself as a distinctively South African brand – and particularly through its advertising campaigns. Nando’s has a reputation for responding quickly and wittily to political controversies – like blacking out its ads during protests against the potentially oppressive Protection of State Information Bill in 2011. Although this is a strategy which backfires occasionally, it means that Nando’s can cash in – quite literally – by siding with (middle-class?) South Africans’ exasperation with the government and the country’s politicians.

Nando's expresses support for the Springboks, the national rugby team. 'Moer hulle' translates roughly as 'fuck them'. You wouldn't say this in front of your grandmother.

Nando’s expresses support for the Springboks, the national rugby team. ‘Moer hulle’ translates roughly as ‘fuck them’. You wouldn’t say this in front of your grandmother.

It was this which made Nando’s presence in Gaborone feel incongruous. Despite its expensive PR campaigns, Botswana has a deserved reputation for being one of the most secretive states in southern Africa. It’s particularly intolerant of dissent, and has expelled those who have challenged the political status quo. As a recipient of the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s Golden Padlock award in 2011, the real country is worlds away from Alexander McCall Smith’s sanitised and gently patronising depiction of Botswana’s people and politics. I doubt that Nando’s advertising would be legal in Gaborone.

*Never, ever trust the taxi drivers of Gaborone to get you to the airport in time for your early flight to Joburg. And particularly not those who congregate at the Gaborone Southern Sun at 4am. Trust me on this one.

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Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Hot Cross Bun Fight

Just before Easter this year, a group of Christians in South Africa objected to the labelling of hot cross buns at Woolworths, a premium supermarket, as halal. Possibly chastened by the furore which erupted over its stocking of Christian magazines a couple of years ago, Woolies apologised. But, wonderfully, the response of the South African public was hilarity: what on earth, asked people on social media and radio chat shows, was wrong with making hot cross buns available to Muslims?

As many pointed out, it would be interesting to see if these Christians also avoided McDonald’s, KFC, Nando’s or any of the other fast food chains which serve halal food. In a country as socially and culturally diverse as South Africa, it makes sense for restaurants and shops to sell halal and kosher products. Most chicken sold in South Africa is halal, for instance.

In fact, the South African Easter meal of choice is pickled fish – a dish developed by slaves brought to the Cape from southeast Asia, India, and elsewhere during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Many of these slaves would have been Muslim, a religion tolerated by the Dutch and, later, British authorities on the grounds that they believed it to be ‘civilised’ and unlikely to encourage slaves to revolt or disobey their masters and mistresses.

So South African Christians eat a dish at Easter which was created by Muslim slaves more than two centuries ago. And even those who are not Christian eat it: we had my Mum’s version of pickled fish on Good Friday – based on a recipe my Great-Grandmother cooked – with pilaf instead of the usual bread-and-butter, and it was delicious.

My Mum's pickled fish

I was interested by the hot cross bun debate because – I think – it’s the first major discussion South Africans have had about the labelling of halal food. Last year there was some controversy about a meat supplier which allegedly sold haram meat as halal, but the debates then were about the regulation of the meat industry, and not about the public’s willingness – or otherwise – to eat halal food.

This ‘storm in a baking pan,’ as Father Chris Townsend of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference put it, was fairly unusual, in international terms, in the way that it was greeted with such widespread condemnation. In France, the first country in Western Europe to ban women from wearing the burqa and niquab in public, the labelling of halal food is now an electoral issue. Concerned by the depressing popularity of far-right loon Marine le Pen, Nicolas Sarkozy announced in January that if re-elected, he would enact legislation to ensure that all halal foods are clearly labelled. (You can donate to Francois Hollande’s campaign here.)

Sarkozy justified these new measures – which angered Jewish leaders as well – by implying that the ritual slaughter of animals for halal and, by implication, kosher meat is inhumane. But French Muslims argue that Sarkozy and the French right’s attack on ritual slaughter has less to do with the treatment of animals than it does to broader debates about multiculturalism and social integration in France. As one French blogger commented:

Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen have resorted to this because they have no solutions to the real problems. It’s the last desperate thrashings of a mad dog that has nothing to lose. It’s part of a chain of thought that goes from halal meat to Islamism to terrorism.

This isn’t the only recent debate about the labelling of halal meat and ritual slaughter. Australia and Canada have seen similar discussions, and the Daily Mail seems to specialise in a kind of hysterical journalism which links the widespread availability of halal meat to the end of Britain and the imminent arrival of Armageddon. Religious slaughter is banned in New Zealand, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Norway, and Sweden. An attempt to enact a similar ban in the Netherland last year was blocked at the last minute.

What makes these debates interesting is that they are hardly new. David Smith writes that in 1995,

a federal German court effectively banned Muslims from slaughtering animals without prior stunning. The court ruled that the practice was not required by their religion and was thus not protected by the constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religious expression. In January 2002, however, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the right to freedom of religious expression and choice of occupation did in fact ensure the entitlement of Germany’s Muslims, or at least those responsible for their provision with halal meat, to resume stunningless methods for such ends without the threat of legal action.

In his excellent Franz Kafka, the Jewish Patient (1995), Sander Gilman explores shifting attitudes towards shehitah, the slaughter of animals in accordance with Judaic law and custom. In the 1880s and 1890s, various campaigns to outlaw shehitah emerged in Europe. In Germany, only Saxony eventually banned shehitah in 1897. While many supporters of the campaign were anti-vivisectionists or were concerned about the treatment of animals in abattoirs, there is no coincidence that this interest in the butchering of kosher meat developed at the same time as a wave of anti-Semitism swept Europe.

In 1883, delegates at a meeting of the Congress for the Protection of Animals in Vienna argued that the protection of ritual slaughter was an indication of Jewish influence over European politics. But others pointed out that the attempt effectively to ban kosher meat was driven by anti-Semitism. In 1885, the Lord Mayor of London compared the campaign to the allegations around Jewish ritual murder during the medieval period. The liberal Berlin Daily News declared in 1893 that those opposed to ritual slaughter were ‘pure anti-Semites’. Unsurprisingly, the Nazis outlawed ritual slaughter – also in the name of preventing cruelty to animals – during the 1930s.

There is, then, an obvious link between anxiety about religious difference, and even racism, and concerns about ritual slaughter. That said, expressing concern about the ways in which animals are slaughtered should not necessarily immediately be construed as religious or cultural intolerance. Countries need to find a balance between facilitating the religious practices of all their citizens, and the humane treatment of animals.

The South African hot cross bun fight (ahem, sorry) was not, though, about ritual slaughter. The Christians who complained about the labelling of hot cross buns in Woolworths were angry about the association of a Christian symbol – the cross on the bun – with a sticker connected to Islam. Next year, Woolies will sell hot cross buns (without the halal sticker) and spiced buns (with a halal sticker). The buns will be identical, with the exception of a flour-and-water-paste cross on the former.

I don’t know enough about the history of attitudes towards religious slaughter in South Africa to position this incident within a broader, historical context, but there are several examples of religious communities coexisting fairly harmoniously during periods of this country’s past. Most of the butchers in nineteenth-century Cape Town were Muslim, for example. This meant that the majority of Victorian Capetonians ate halal meat, regardless of their religious beliefs.

This incident demonstrates not only the extent to which food is integral to the maintenance of religious identities – which is particularly ironic given the fact that so many of the traditions and rituals we associate with Easter have pagan origins – but that people’s anxieties about religious freedom and identity are frequently played out through debates around food.

Further Reading

Sources cited here:

Sander Gilman, Franz Kafka, the Jewish Patient (New York and London: Routledge, 1995).

Pablo Lerner and Alfredo Mordechai Rabello, ‘The Prohibition of Ritual Slaughtering (Kosher Shechita and Halal) and Freedom of Religion of Minorities,’ Journal of Law and Religion, vol. 22, no. 1 (2006/2007), pp. 1-62.

David Smith, ‘“Cruelty of the Worst Kind”: Religious Slaughter, Xenophobia, and the German Greens,’ Central European History, vol. 40, no. 1 (Mar., 2007), pp. 89-115.

Ellen Wiles, ‘Headscarves, Human Rights, and Harmonious Multicultural Society: Implications of the French Ban for Interpretations of Equality,’ Law & Society Review, vol. 41, no. 3 (Sep., 2007), pp. 699-735.

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Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.