Tales From The Terminal: Shining Shoes, Shining Service


At times in the airport, the activities of the rest of humanity seem utterly insignificant.

The airport terminal becomes a world unto itself, which is why we’ve reached out to our readers to share some of their interesting tales from the terminal.

We kick off our series with Professor James Blignaut from Stellenbosch University. He shares a curious encounter with a shoe shiner from a recent trip to Cape Town.


With the energetic vigour of a person 25 years his junior, he cleans my shoes. With excitement he talks about home in the Eastern Cape; ground zero is Tembisa though – two taxi rides away from OR Tambo’s domestic departure hall where he wipes my shoes.

He got up at 03:00 this morning and left home at 03:30 to be able to clean my shoes at 4:45 – his first customer of the day. But life is good, he works seven-hour shifts. Today he will knock off at noon, but tomorrow he only starts at noon.

However, his main concern right now is the abysmal state of my beloved do-everything-go-everywhere shoes. He just loves clean shoes – his passion is to see shoes shining brightly.


I request dubbin, not shine, dull-like-me. Protest! It is blasphemy in shoe kingdom and in the religion of shine. Customer is king, so dubbin it is, but not after having showered them in dust-removing foam, adding a serious wipe with yesterday’s proudly worn latex.

A regular joins our party – shoes shining – just in need of a bit of touch-up. We say our goodbyes in a jovial mixture of Afrikaans, English and Zulu and he greets me with the words: “Do not play soccer with them, fly, don’t walk!”

I sludge off to my lounge-brewed coffee and tired-looking egg: just another day, just another trip, just another plane. From the departure gate, tame sheep queueing, I observe him canvassing energetically, luring the next pair of unhappy shoes in need of a wipe.

Can you and I love passionately, serve energetically and shine others’ filthy shoes, building a nation?

Prof James Blignaut 


Have a tale from the terminal you would like to share? Send your short story and images to sawubonaonline@mikatekomedia.co.za and you could be featured on our website.


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