Canadian Journalist Discovers Talented Hat Maker in Johannesburg Douglas Mason Thabang Canadian Mounty style hats
Douglas Mason and Thabang. Photo: Douglas Mason

A year ago, a former Canadian journalist, now living in South Africa, found a man selling authentic Canadian Mounty style hats on the streets of Parkhurst, Johannesburg. He was blown away by the great quality of the hats.

“I bought one, but could never find him again,” Douglas Mason wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. This week he struck gold. He not only found Thabang, but the two have gone into business.

Thabang’s hats – which are hand-crafted by Thabang and his mother – are now for sale from The Free State Design Company inside Rosendal’s Service Station Wine Bar.

The Wine Bar happens to be owned by Douglas, who moved to the Free State town of Rosendal in 2014, after working in eastern DRC as a journalist, and running a boxing club for ex child soldiers.

Douglas was an editor at The Economist and worked all over Africa, before landing up in the Free State.

“I run a beautiful wine bar there – The Service Station – and have renovated some old homes in the downtown,” Douglas told SAPeople. “I also have a design business there, The Free State Design company. And this is where I am selling Thabang’s hats. They are such beautiful hats and it was so unusual to find someone making Canadian style Mounty hats. We just struck up a business partnership right away. I will sell all the hats I can. Already I am exporting to people in Canada.”

Thabang and his mom make the “well crafted” hats at their home in Orange Farm (a township south of Joburg).

“What Thabang and his mom do is wonderful, I am so happy to have discovered their talent and to be able to work with them,” says Douglas. “Thabang’s mom worked for a hat maker and picked up the skill. What they do is very small scale now, they make the hats and then Thabang takes R140 (return) taxi ride from Orange Farm to Parkhurst to sell the hats, hawking up and down Parkhurst’s stylish 4th Avenue.”

Discovering this kind of “wonderful” talent is one of the reasons why Douglas has remained in South Africa.

“We always find such remarkable creativity and talent in this country in unexpected places. That is what makes South Africa so compelling.”

Douglas says you may ask why anyone would trade Canada – one of the most peaceful, prosperous and successful countries in the world – for “South Africa’s chaos”? But there is an easy answer:

“The country grants us anarchic freedoms and remarkable opportunity. I could not easily do the things I do in South Africa in Canada – where I run a wine bar, a design company, and own a building with an art gallery, all in my little town.

“It is also a place where we can make a difference in other peoples lives, a positive difference, and do that nearly every day.”

You can take a trip to beautiful Rosendal in the Free State to enjoy and buy Thabang’s hats from The Free State Design Company, located inside Rosendal’s Service Station Wine Bar:

“You can also buy direct from Thabang; he is to be found walking up and down Parkhurst every Friday and Saturday,” says Douglas.