South Africa awaits economic miracle

Soweto, May 21 :

South Africa’s famous Soweto township is undergoing an economic metamorphosis as more and more blacks join the middle class, creating a demand for top quality consumer goods.

Plans are afoot in the township — which once grabbed world headlines as a political hotbed in the fight against apartheid — to build a world-class shopping mall as well as an upmarket hotel. Construction started two months ago on the shopping centre the size of eight football fields which will open its doors to the public next year, while the government unveiled a project last month to build a luxury four-star hotel.

The mammoth Maponya Mall and the Freedom Square hotel a few kilometres away will be able to compete with the best of Johannesburg’s posh — and mainly white — northern suburbs have to offer, an analyst said. “The Maponya Mall is the first of its kind to be opened in Soweto. It’s black-owned and an indication of the growing buying power of the black middle class,” said Mzamo Masito, a marketing and consumer analyst, “It shows that big brands are starting to take notice of this group and are starting to chase them.”

According to the most comprehensive study to date, the emerging black middle class in South Africa has nearly a quarter of annual cash buying power of $96 million.

“You will never have development in Soweto if 75 per cent of the people spend their money outside the township,” added Masito, “Money doesn’t flow and doesn’t stay around in the township at the moment. These investments are the best things that could have happened.” The Maponya Mall, named after one of Soweto’s best-known business families, are to house some of the top consumer names in South Africa and Soweto’s first fully-fledged cinema complex.

“People in the township want access to shopping malls and other things which have been previously only been found in white areas — and they demand the same quality,” said Masito, “For many years, there has been the perception, sometimes rightly so, that what people got in Soweto was inferior to that of white areas.”

At Freedom Square, where the freedom charter in the struggle against apa-rtheid South Africa was first framed in 1953, a 48-room four-star hotel is soon to ch-ange the landscape for ever. The ultra-modern complex will spearhead economic revival in the area and will bo-ast a tourism office, an op-en-air museum, shops, a market and several restaurants. Both Maponya Mall and Freedom Square hotel are expected to create hundreds of new jobs.