Saturday in Soweto

#10: Ditch the northern suburbs for a morning at Maponya Mall. The family headed for Soweto, and while a trip to the more historic parts of the township (so large it should be renamed a cityship, only if we stick with old naming conventions) like Vilikazi Street and Kliptown is still on my list, it was the Mall that drew us first in search of Saturday breakfast.

We drove there via Nasrec, curious to see the progress of the R1.5-billion revamp of the FNB stadium or “soccer city”, which will host the opening ceremony of 2010’s Soccer World Cup.I love the glass soccer ball atop Safa’s concrete headquarters next to the stadium.  (It reminds me of Norman Foster’s glass dome on Berlin’s Reichstag.) The building is constrained and neat, and made more interesting by the drama in the background of massive and messy construction work with huge cranes rising up into the morning sky.

From there we drove past Baragwanath Hospital and the recently revamped Bara Taxi Rank and Mall, the streets unusually quiet. At Maponya Mall, Soweto’s first mega-mall, parking was plentiful and security tight. The people of Soweto are not big on eating breakfast out (this statement relies on empirical data — my own observations confirmed by those of our waiter, Isaac, at the News Cafe). They are more of a lunch crowd.

All the big names are at the mall from Woolworths to Exclusive Books, Puma to Camper and while that makes for good shopping it’s disappointing that there are few retail surprises, but I guess that’s global mall culture for you. The most startling discovery was the statue of a fallen Hector Pieterson at the Mall’s entrance, as inappropriately incongruous as the Madiba statue at Sandton Square. It’s a bizarre connection and I am not sure if these struggle reminders in shrines to retail culture are there to tell you this is what the struggle was for – the right to shop.

On the food front, the mall is sadly, franchise city. We opted for the News Cafe (a suggestion I would usually resist but couldn’t because our other choices for breakfast would have had to be Nando’s chicken or Anat’s schwarma).

My poached eggs on toast with creamy mushroom sauce temporarily redeemed the News Cafe for me.  The seven-year-old loved the flapjacks. And the burger-lover was happy (he doesn’t share my views on what constitutes breakfast).

We had spent the drive there trying to explain apartheid and the origins of Soweto to the 7-year-old but we were no competition for level 4 of Super Mario Bros on the Nintendo DS. Although something must have stuck because as we walked into the mall he yelled out “You were right. You can hardly see a white person here.”

I think we may have been something of a curiosity to denizens of the mall, because I have never been treated with such politeness. We were greeted at every store and there was not a grumpy sales assistant in sight, probably because they are all employed at Hyde Park and Sandton City. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning.

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