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Classic American Game Gets a South African Update

  • Darren Taylor

A woman inspects a display of the latest South African version of the world-famous Monopoly board game. (D. Taylor/ VOA)

A woman inspects a display of the latest South African version of the world-famous Monopoly board game. (D. Taylor/ VOA)

Ever fancied owning world famous South African landmarks like Table Mountain, the Kruger game park and Robben Island, where former president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned? Well, players of the internationally popular Monopoly property purchase board game can now do so. The American toy company that manufactures the game, Hasbro, recently released Monopoly Mzansi. Mzansi is a Xhosa word meaning South Africa. It’s the first version of the game to fully represent modern-day, democratic South Africa.

South Africans have been playing Monopoly since the early 1960s. Hasbro launched the board game in the United States in 1903. Millions around the world still enjoy it.

Players roll dice, move along the board and get to buy various properties. The player who builds the most wealth wins; the losers go bankrupt through injudicious purchases, and high rentals when landing on a place owned by a rival.

In South Africa, older versions of the game reflected a racially-segregated country, including apartheid-era streets and landmarks.

Hasbro’s local marketing manager, Siphiwe Thabethe, said the Mzansi edition of Monopoly represents modern South Africa.

Places for sale on the board now include Johannesburg’s Maboneng Precinct, where trendy stores sell African fashion and music.

“The key new ones are Maboneng; Vilakazi Street in Soweto. So it’s really a mixture of what is new and what’s bubbling in South Africa right now. My favorite location I’d have to say is Vilakazi Street, with the [anti-apartheid] history that comes with that, Nelson Mandela [lived there],” said Thabethe. “We are a great country; we’ve got lots of attractions. So we’re really a tourist destination as well. So it’s about celebrating what’s proudly South African.”

Thabethe’s also excited about the inclusion on the Monopoly board of Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo airport; most tourists’ first experience of South Africa.

Another property for sale is in Johannesburg’s Parkhurst suburb: Fourth Avenue, a strip of restaurants, boutiques and bars.

Pub owner Jack Breusegem said Fourth Avenue deserves its place in the latest Monopoly variant because it’s one of South Africa’s best entertainment venues.

“You’ve got a whole variety of things [here] from sushi to a steakhouse to craft beers. People want that homely thing, that village feel, where you can come in and you know your car’s safe, you’re safe. I think it’s fantastic that they (Hasbro) actually thought about us and put us on the board,” said Breusegem.

At a store in Sandton Square, a shopping space dominated by a huge statue of Nelson Mandela, an oinking, tail-wagging pig and a wide-eyed plastic soldier beating a drum compete for children’s attention as they race into a toy store in Johannesburg.

One of the places featured on the board of Monopoly Mzansi is Sandton Square, where a huge statue of Nelson Mandela is a major attraction. (D. Taylor for VOA)

One of the places featured on the board of Monopoly Mzansi is Sandton Square, where a huge statue of Nelson Mandela is a major attraction. (D. Taylor for VOA)

But their father’s here to buy ‘Monopoly Mzansi.’

The square is itself a feature on the new Monopoly board,

Hamley’s toy store manager Bridget Green said customers are “thrilled” to finally have a version of Monopoly to which they feel “connected.”

“It’s been moving really nicely. Also, I think the fact that it’s Mzansi, so it’s obviously South African-based, which makes it quite a puller. Everybody’s enjoying it and it’s been a great success,” said Green.

From the Botanical Gardens in Cape Town to Durban’s Golden Mile and game parks filled with lions and elephants, they’re all up for grabs when playing Monopoly Mzansi - if you have the millions of fake rands required. But beware: landing on Table Mountain, if it’s owned by a rival player, could just as easily bankrupt you.

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