Milnerton Flea Market

set against the magnificent Table Mountain

Sprawled across a dusty plot along the R27 in Paarden Eiland, a mish mash of gazebos, vehicles and trailers order themselves in rows displaying objects of the sort that reflect an organised chaos- the Milnerton Flea Market has been in existence for over 15 years. Previously at different quarters, the traders have become a familiar sight each Saturday and Sunday, as cars stream in both directions toward Table View or the city centre.

In fact, if you’re travelling past Paarden Eiland on a Friday or Saturday night, like we often do, you’re bound to see the silhouette of vehicles camped out in the  parking lot adjacent to the market, packed to the rafters with goods or attached to weary looking trailers. We’ve often wondered why they do. To secure a spot? Perhaps many traders have no permanent permits or drive to the market from afar. I’ve never found out the reason.

By daylight we often travel past the flea market on a Saturday morning and the line my husband and I exchange between ourselves is, “We MUST stop by here someday”.  It was a joke we shared for years, because despite saying it so often we never seemed to have a moment to do so.

That spell was broken about a month ago, when we pulled into the parking lot on a hot Sunday afternoon, and faced the most incredible sight. Rows of old toys, mismatched crockery and cutlery, baskets of hardware and a biltong stand were conveniently arranged against the background of majestic Table Mountain, the city’s crowing glory. I had to smile at the contrast.

the weird and the wonderful

What you’ll find

As maintained on the trader’s web site, this is a flea market, one of Cape Town’s very few, so expect unwanted odds and ends, garage sale specials, groceries and toiletries (fake/ counterfeit, who’s to know), buckets of cutlery with no partners, Reader’s Digest compilations (remember those), potted plants, household cleaning products and an array of fast food from pancakes to sandwiches and hot dogs.

If you’re looking for crafts or heirloom tomatoes, this isn’t the market you’re after. If however, you’re willing to kneel with the crowds and dig through piles of stuff, you may just unearth a rare gem- the value of which may not be known even to the trader.

I’m told that if you’re after specific items (crockery, pots, special tools) go early, as these are snapped up with the worms.

Haggling- make me a better price.

For smaller items, I would advise that you not haggle (though South African market culture is usually tolerant of bargaining), only because these items are already so well- priced and these folk need to make a living. I could not believe that hidden in a tumble of kitchen goods, lay a Swedish cheese grater similar to the one that I had purchased earlier this year in an antique store in a small town for 4 times the price! I wanted to tell the trader that he needed to mark his goods up.

trash or treasure

A case of the Blues

I found a few items I’ve been after for years for a song but the market was not my husband’s scene- I think he was glad we had a time limit and needed to be at a friend’s. It’s not the business or bric-a-brac nature of the market, so much as a sense of sadness that permeates it. It’s the idea of rubbish that we’d send for recycling that others are selling, albeit quite cheaply, but probably to make ends meet. It’s the middle aged woman smiling, but staring through us, her table displaying a broken house phone, a pile of books, a few sets of keys and two chipped ornaments.

no partners

Having said that, the market provides the opportunity for these traders, permanent and temporary to make a living.

Will you go?

My advice would be, have a strong cup of coffee and have a go at unearthing some treasures to re-home or re-purpose and support these colourful locals. Photographer Dave Southwood has dedicated 10 years to capturing these folk in loving and respectfully taken photographs, now available for sale in his book entitled Milnerton Market. I anticipate that in years to come, this work will be regarded the historical reference for the life and times of the people who make the market what it is.

Sam Woulidge, writer and blogger at Confessions of a Hungry Woman has written lovingly about her fondness of the market and it’s star pancake maker- you can read her beautiful post here .

I’m taking a gaggle of friends with on the next visit, so if the coffee wears out and the Blues kick in, I’ll have the wherewithal to keep searching for that perfect enamel prop plate.

For other interesting pictures of the market folk, visit Christoph Lenz’s flickr stream.

Where: R27, Marine Drive, Paarden Eiland

When: Sat & Sun 7 am till 4 pm

Contact: (the secretary)

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