Letter from Johannesburg: How much has South Africa changed?
The broken-down yard on the corner of 7th Avenue and Hofmeyer Street says a lot about the pace of change in South Africa. The most famous corner of Alexandra township was home to Nelson Mandela when he arrived in Johannesburg in the 1940s.
For more than a decade authorities have been promising residents that they will get a Mandela Yard Interpretation Centre to draw in visitors and money. All there is for now is a blue plaque next to what was once the great man’s front door. The rusting metal outdoor toilet across the yard is a better gauge of how much lives have changed.
Sitting on the street corner where goats chew on bits of rubbish Lucky Nkadimeng is among the many South Africans reluctant to believe that his most famous compatriot may be in his final days. “He’s going to recover like the times before,” he insists.
A short walk away Thake Mathebe sits next to his vacant car wash in a sparkly USA jacket and Obama T-shirt. He says Mandela was responsible for opening the way for a black man to become President of the US. The 28-year-old is planning to travel to Pretoria in the hope of getting a glimpse of the US leader this weekend when he visits South Africa. But he is more worried about his own former President, whom he says is “too old” to bounce back.
Kgagki Maloke, who runs the Jazz Pub on 7th thinks many of the younger people in Alex are more in love with Mandela’s fame than his practical achievements. Maloke, whose 97-year-old father went to school with another anti-apartheid icon, Oliver Tambo, refuses to join the wave of sentiment towards Mandela. He says that the promise of the “rainbow nation” has proved hollow: “I lived here all my life and there’s more poverty than before.”
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