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Where to find solace from xenophobia

Johannesburg — It is referred to as the America of Africa. A big and booming economy, job opportunities and good life are all said to be easily available in South Africa. Call it by any name you like: Zululand or Madiba's country. It is one of Africa's nations with a unique history from the dark days of apartheid that lasted more than half a century. To many African youth, stories are told of countless opportunities for anyone willing to work hard in South Africa. It is not surprising therefore that many job and business hunters have been crossing borders illegally to go 'South'. In Tanzania, there are mothers crying every morning when they remember their sons who left home to go to South Africa to look for greener pastures. They never came back and no one knows if they are alive or not.

It has never been easy here. As I enter Cinema Noveau, a cinema hall in Rosebank, a white suburb in Johannesburg, where movies and films are shown to celebrate the TriContinental Film Festival in South Africa, I come across a lot of non-south Africans who are here to watch a documentary, Africa Shafted-Under One Roof. This is a story about a building in South Africa named Ponte, a towering cylinder of concrete, steel and glass which stands 54 storeys on a rocky outcropping on the edge of Johannesburg's notorious Hillbrow area. The building has 467 flats which were formerly resided in by about 4,000 residents-most of them being non-South Africans. From the beginning, Ponte was going to be something spectacular. Designed by a renowned South African architect, Rodney Grosskopff, and built in 1976, Ponte City, as it's formally called, was to be South Africa's first circular skyscraper--a 568-foot hollow tower with a bare rock floor at its base. The building was to be a symbol of the vitality of cosmopolitan Johannesburg, Grosskopff told the Christian Science Monitor. That changed in 1994, with apartheid's fall. As black South Africans began living in formerly segregated inner-city areas, including Ponte, whites vacated the city. It was during this period when non-South Africans came to find home at Ponte. "It was a big collection, we were people from all over Africa living in peace and harmony under one roof and everything seemed fine during those days," says Michael Okonkwo, a Nigerian living in Johannesburg.

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