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Heaven on Earth

Heaven on Earth

by Simangele Mzizi
30 August 2021

Cape Town CBD entrepreneur Mondli Mahamba believes that the perfect Cup of Joe can provide an experience akin to heaven on earth. But life wasn’t always easy for him. He tells us how he moved away from a life on the streets to owning the Heaven Coffee shop.

Tucked inside the entrance of the Central Methodist Mission on Greenmarket Square, Heaven Coffee is something of a haven. The intimate space is decorated with inspirational quotes such as: “You are born in love by love and for love”,Forgive, forgive again, forgive yourself” and “You are the light in the world”.

The brainchild of 35-year-old Mahamba, who hails from Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape, Heaven Coffee has been in business since April 2017. Mahamba is on a mission to create a venue that is all about community, about belonging. Hence the quotes on the walls. “When people come here, they must feel happy, loved, and accepted,” he says.

His clients are visitors to the CBD, office workers, and “curious people”. He appreciates their patronage and panders to their preferences. “Coffee lovers like to be recognised. They love it when you start making their order the minute they walk in. That’s why it was important for me to learn about the business,” says Mahamba, who completed a professional barista course at Origin Coffee Roasting in 2017 that included hands-on brewing and the theory of coffee. He still buys his beans at Origin, and also uses beans from Deluxe Coffeeworks. “This is locally roasted coffee, and you’re guaranteed quality, great taste, and consistency,” says Mahamba.

Serving connoisseur-class coffee is important to him as he believes “drinking coffee must be an experience”.  “Anyone can make coffee at home or the office, but people choose our space for that unique feeling.”


Mondli Mahamba at his coffee machine at Heaven Coffee near Greenmarket Square.

EARLY DAYS

But his journey to becoming a barista and coffee shop owner was not straightforward. After completing Matric in Durban at Riverdene Secondary School, Mahamba relocated to Cape Town in 2006. His first job was as a call centre agent at Old Mutual in Pinelands, where he worked for four years.

Then things started to go wrong. “I started drinking and experimenting with drugs … by that time I was working for Medscheme doing administration and it started to affect my work. As a result, the company sent me to rehab between 2013 and 2014.”

Mahamba concedes that he “could not come to grips with the situation” and it led to him losing his job. His drug use escalated, and he ended up on the streets for eight months from mid-2014 to 2015. “It’s funny how, when you end up on the streets, logic is no longer logic. You don't think about buying food with the R20 note in your pocket – you think about getting high and searching for food from a bin. That’s where I was at,” he says.


Heaven Coffee is inside the Central Methodist church.

GOOD SAMARITANS

While homeless, he lived near Cape Town Station, and as luck would have it, his fortunes changed for the better in 2016 when two Swiss tourists assisted him.

“They were looking for directions and that led to a conversation about my circumstances and them paying for my shelter fees and food at The Hope Exchange. They were decent, caring people. What got me was their curiosity,” he says. The Hope Exchange, a CCID partner NGO, accommodates homeless adults at its Geoff Burton House, who have access to ablution facilities, social work services, monthly healthcare wellness, and vocational and life skills training.

“I stayed there from 2016 to 2017; longer than I should have. They could see a difference when I started attending recovery meetings and support groups they hosted. That was instrumental to my becoming clean, sober, and getting off the streets. Without that support, I would have gone back,” says Mahamba.

Charity Pote, a social worker at The Hope Exchange, says Mahamba’s journey shows that it’s possible to bring about change. “I think it is incredible that Mondli has been able to pursue his dreams. This demonstrates the value of professional social care and a second-phase shelter to provide dignity and opportunities for change – and an extra boost to those who are at risk of homelessness.”

Through the mental wellness support at The Hope Exchange, Mahamba found a job as a waiter at Dapper in Bree Street in 2017 after being sober for a year. At the time, he was also attending recovery meetings at the Central Methodist Mission. It was here that his love of coffee was sparked but he found the restaurant work stressful. He eventually quit and set his sights on establishing his own business.


Barista Mondli Mahamba outside the Central Methodist Mission church.

GOING IT ALONE

“While attending recovery meetings at the Central Methodist Mission, I got to know Rev. Alan Storey, and I asked if I could use the space,” he says.

After getting the green light and backing from the church community and his friends, Heaven Coffee was born. With a counter already in place, “it was easy for me to get everything else.” And the rest is history.

But he is not resting on his laurels. Having been given a hand up, the entrepreneur – who now lives at Shortmarket House in the CBD – is paying it forward with barista training to upskill and empower homeless individuals.

“The plan is to partner with shelters and recruit guys from there and collaborate with coffee shops and restaurants for job opportunities. A few have already shown interest and I had already started training two guys before the Third Wave hit."

Covid or not, he remains determined to make a difference in the lives of those who are destitute. “I know it’s possible to live a different life. I feel that’s the role this coffee shop needs to play in the future,” he says.

IMAGES: CCID

Tags: Heaven Coffee Mondli Mahamba Central Methodist Mission