Friday, September 28, 2007

Former South African President Nelson Mandela Appears at Opening Ceremony for New Giant Shopping Mall in Soweto

Giant Soweto shopping mall opens

Former South African President Nelson Mandela has opened the largest shopping centre in southern Africa in Soweto.

The Maponya Mall marks a transformation for the Johannesburg township, once an impoverished centre in the struggle against apartheid.

The complex covers 65,000 sq m and has 200 stores and an eight-screen cinema.

It is the brainchild of 82-year-old entrepreneur Richard Maponya, who began in business by opening a dairy in Soweto in the 1950s.

"I have been one of the sons of this town for a very long time. I have seen it grow," Mr Maponya said at the opening.

Standing close to the iconic statue of Hector Pieterson, the youngest victim of the 1976 Soweto student uprising against apartheid, he described how he struggled to get access to finance during his career as a black entrepreneur but kept persevering.

"Today I deliver to you my dream of 28 years," he said.

Fully fledged city

Mr Mandela, who has not made a public appearance in Soweto for some years, opened the mall by cutting a gold ribbon.

"With this action, we declare the mall open," he said to cheers.

The BBC's Peter Biles says the first rains of the summer fell outside, which some people said was a blessing for the new shopping centre.

Mr Mandela, 89, sat alongside Mr Maponya as they listened to singers performing at the ceremony.

Mr Maponya said the complex belonged to the one million residents of Soweto and Johannesburg's Mayor Amos Masondo said this was not just a facelift for the township but a radical reconstruction.

Within an hour of the opening, thousands of Soweto residents poured into the shopping centre, snapping up first-day bargains.

Our correspondent says that Soweto has become the site of massive development.

Property prices are rising and international tourists visit Mr Mandela's former family home.

Last year, Soweto marked the 30th anniversary of the 1976 uprising when students rebelled against the white apartheid state in a protest over the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in schools.

But many black South Africans have chosen to move from the townships to the former white suburbs in cities like Johannesburg.

Our reporter says the new shopping centre is designed to generate both wealth and jobs.

And he says Soweto is now looking forward to the day when it can become a fully fledged twin city of Johannesburg, rather than just a dormitory town.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/09/27 14:24:50 GMT

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