Mandela cuts the ribbon at Maponya

Celean Jacobson

Celean Jacobson

Former president Nelson Mandela opened the largest shopping mall in Soweto last week, more evidence of the business boom that is transforming South Africa's most famous township.

The Maponya Mall is the latest venture by Richard Maponya, a close associate of Mandela and one of Soweto's oldest entrepreneurs. "With this action, we declare this mall open," said Mandela after cutting a large gold ribbon.

Shopping malls are sprouting up across Soweto as black South Africans reap the benefits of a growing economy.

"There are big changes in Soweto," Sowetan Cecile Daubanes said at Maponya Mall's opening, pushing a trolley loaded with groceries.

Soweto is the most populous black urban residential area in the country with about onemillion people, nearly a third of Johannesburg's total population.

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

Johannesburg Mayor Amos Masondo said a 2004 study showed that Sowetans spent millions on retail goods, but only 25percent of this was spent in the township due to a lack of retail outlets. Since then, there had been an "explosion" of new shops in Soweto, including the Maponya Mall, he said. - AP