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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 September 2007, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Giant Soweto shopping mall opens
Construction workers at the Maponya Mall in Soweto
There was a last minute rush to get the centre ready
Former South African President Nelson Mandela has opened one of the largest shopping centres in southern Africa.

The Maponya Mall in Soweto 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.

Today I deliver to you my dream of 28 years
Entrepreneur Richard Maponya

"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.

Nelson Mandela listens to singers at the opening of Maponya Mall in Soweto
It is Mr Mandela's first public appearance in Soweto for a while

"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.

Wigs in a shop in Maponya Mall

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.

Nelson Mandela opens shopping centre

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