South African Cultural Observatory

From Shipping Container to the Mall of Thembisa - Africa's Ultimate Braai Experience ®?

BY 17.12.20

Founded in 1997, Imbizo Shisanyama is one of South Africa’s most acclaimed African cuisine restaurants that celebrate the authentic African culture and heritage. At Imbizo Shisanyama venues, you will have the opportunity to enjoy Africa’s Ultimate Braai Experience at a restaurant that has earned an enviable reputation over the past 23 years for its delicious authentic African cuisine, quality service and a culture that emanates the true African identity. The restaurant has not expanded to three outlets, all in Gauteng.

Founded by serial entrepreneur and author of Conquering the Poverty of the Mind, Rita Zwane, affectionately known as maZwane, Imbizo Shisanyama was established in 1997 on a dusty street corner in Ivory Park and has taken Africa and the world by storm. MaZwane single-handedly pioneered the commercialisation of the Shisanyama sub-sector within the South African food, beverage, and hospitality sector. 

A braai experience is part of South African Culture - regardless of race or class. For South African families, it has always been a culture to braai meat around an open fire when performing traditional ceremonies and celebrations that bring together families and friends. This culture has been and continues to be practised across racial lines and class, across the breadth of the country. We can safely say that a braai (Ukosa in isiZulu) is a single most common practice that carries our history.

At the centre of its success is a deep understanding of African culture and heritage. Imbizo Shisanyama evokes a fierce loyalty from its patrons who have made the restaurant their home away from home. The restaurant is a natural extension of who they are – it is relevant, relatable, and authentically African. It has a deeply ingrained social conscience, it respects and honours the true African identity, and celebrates the culture and heritage of Africa. It is the living, breathing spirit of Ubuntu in action. Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu.

Over the years the Imbizo Shisanyama has been a key custodian of Heritage Day celebrations. It launched its Heritage Day celebrations in 2002 to give Maskandi artists a platform to showcase their talent. Such was its success that it grew to more than 10 000 visitors at the 2018 celebrations at Rabie Ridge Stadium. Today, Imbizo Shisanyama is widely recognised as the custodian of authentic Heritage Day celebrations. The event has become Gauteng’s Durban July as it attracts South Africa’s who’s who of traditional singers, dancers, and performers replete with glamorous traditional attire.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the entire food and beverage sector in South Africa hard. Imbizo Shisanyama was no different. The restaurant participated at the One Million Seats protest to urge the government to lift the strict regulations locking down the sector. “We were pleased to see some of the restrictions slowly lifted but was disappointed by how the funding from the government never reached the local, home-grown Kasi businesses who felt the pain of the pandemic the most. It simply did not filter down the value chain,” says maZwane.

“However, during this time, we had a significant opportunity presented to us as Imbizo Shisanyama was approached by the multinational development group, McCormick Property Development (MPD) to become a tenant at the new Mall of Thembisa, living testimony to the MPD ‘Local First’ principle.”

“Despite the challenging circumstances, it is never good to ignore such an incredible opportunity,” says maZwane, as it has always been her dream for the Imbizo Shisanyama brand to attract and be recognised by big retail property developers.  “We know that opportunities do not always come at favourable times, and we must hold onto the fact that things will always change for the better in the future,” she concludes.

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