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Page last updated at 13:16 GMT, Tuesday, 25 July 2006 14:16 UK

Boom time for S Africa townships

By Mahlatse Gallens
BBC News, Soweto

Tourists at Mandela Museum
Tourism is expected to increase as the World Cup approaches
Thirteen years ago, Evodia Mabaxa bought a house for the equivalent of about $10,000.

Today she is smiling all the way to the bank - she has sold her starter home in Soweto's Protea Glen neighbourhood for almost four and a half times that amount.

Evodia earns a living by doing her neighbour's laundry, and her husband works at the local hospital.

They are among the families who have managed to ride the property boom that is sweeping through South Africa's townships - apartheid's black residential areas, which were once associated with uniform poverty.

I usually get calls from white people who want to have a home in Soweto
Mayibongwe Ntsele, estate agent
"I never thought I'd have a house of my own," she says. "We used to move around in Soweto, hiring rooms - actually we used to live in a garage."

The home that Evodia has just sold is a modest two bedroom detached house. It might not have a white picket fence but it certainly has a beautiful garden with rose bushes.

"After I said to people that I'm selling my house, before I even advertised it, people were flocking in wanting to buy the house and people were even giving me their own prices," she says.

Makeover

In the past few years, Soweto has received a major makeover.

Almost all the streets have been tarred and shopping malls are springing up. It will soon have its first four star hotel and upmarket shopping mall.

New houses in Soweto
New houses are being snapped up
This has seen some houses in the upmarket sections of the suburbs selling at over a million rand ($140,000).

On the streets of Soweto, children still happily play in the streets and everyone knows their neighbours.

Estate agent Mayibongwe Ntsele says these are pull factors, as people want to leave the quiet lifestyle of the historically white suburbs with their high fences.

The arrival of democracy in South Africa saw township dwellers flocking to the suburbs where black people had previously been barred by segregation laws.

But today things are changing. Black people are moving back, and even some white people are taking an interest, according to Mr Ntsele.

"I usually get calls from white people who want to have a home in Soweto to stay, because they experience the lifestyle of the black people not just that cold life style. Soweto will be a suburb on its own," he says.

World Cup

Soweto residents are also hopeful that the 2010 World Cup will be another opportunity to increase their properties' values.

Shopping mall in Soweto
Shopping malls are a new feature of Soweto
The final game of the Cup is already set for Soweto. Evodia Mabaxa has bought a bigger house in the tourist hub section of the township. The seven-room house came with a $56,000 price tag but she plans to make the property work for her.

"Bed and breakfast, local food for people - I'll be doing something to attract the foreigners," she says.

The property boom does not affect only Soweto, but also townships in South Africa's other main cities.

A recent survey by a leading bank found that for every township home put up for sale, there are seven potential buyers in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

It also found that 96% of the township homes are selling at their asking price compared with 60% on average in the formerly white suburbs.

Tracy French of home loan company Mortgage SA says developers are battling to keep up with demand.

"There is definitely a lot of confidence in the market - the laws have made buying property affordable and demand is keeping the market alive," she says.

The boom has even seen white property companies moving into the township to get a share of the cake and banks are now offering home loans for the less affluent households.

Estate agents expect the property boom to continue for a long while, as Soweto transforms itself from just a large dormitory providing labour for Johannesburg to a potentially affluent city in its own right.



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