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July 03, 2013

Mini Economy Springs Up Outside Mandela's Hospital

by Peter Cox

Outside the Pretoria Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital, where former South African President Nelson Mandela has been undergoing treatment since June 8, a village of sorts has sprung up - filled with international media, well-wishers and entrepreneurs.

It feels like a street fair. Broadcasters from all corners of the globe have set up tents, tripods and generators along the closed off street near the entrance to the clinic.

There is a constant stream of well-wishers throughout the day. Mothers bring children to drop off notes wishing Mandela well. Workers nearby come to see what the scene looks like. And of course,  there are journalists.

​​But there are also those who see the demand, and are providing the supply.

A slew of entrepreneurs have shown up to make the most of an opportunity.
"I'm selling the merchandise of the ANC…it's my business," explained Godfrey Mooketsi, who was selling Mandela tablecloths and fabric, along with an ANC headscarf for women. Two meters of cloth sells for 100 rand, or $10. He hired someone to sell his goods on the street.
"I pay this guy.  I'm empowering somebody. Now Mandela is empowering me, because I'm selling Mandela stuff," Mooketsi said, adding that he feels it is what Mandela would want.

But not everyone has been happy with this large group of local and foreign media.

Behind a chain link fence, Fatima Bele, her sister and a friend run a fruit and snack stand every day. On a normal day, the stand would be visible to everyone walking by. But two satellite trucks and a white tent are now set up right on her doorstep, making it nearly impossible to see her stand from the street.
"Most of the customers they don't' even come," Bele complained. "They are afraid of the media. And they park in front of the business, there's no way to pass. So really it’s very quiet. I'm not making money for the whole month."

Eight petrol-powered generators are also running non-stop in front of her stand, emitting fumes and making the area sound like a truck stop.
"Every day I'm having a headache. I'm tired and I'm fed up," she said. "We don't know when it is finishing from the beginning we are happy to see the media people, but now we are tired."

​​But there are many who did not have an income before, but who are now making the most of the situation.

Apartment owners with balconies facing the hospital are renting out space to international camera crews and apartment dwellers are charging these long-term street guests five rand (50 cents) to use the apartment building's lobby bathroom.

Xhola Sikutshwa and two friends set up a table in front of their apartment to sell cold drinks, like water and coke, and sundry items like cigarettes, matches, and homemade pies.

He is happy to take advantage of the opportunity.
"I think for these people being here, like journalists all over the world, I think they made a difference into our lives because we are getting something out of them," Sikutshwa said. "We are very much happy about this. Like I said, the old man is still fighting for us while he is still lying there, you know, because we are getting something out of that."

For Mooketsi, it has been lucrative.
"It's been awesome so far. So far so good," he said happily. "When I come here on Friday in my bank account I had like 30,000 (Rand or $3,000). At the moment I have about 45,000, which means I put 15,000 into my bank account from Friday, which is pretty good."
With a profit of about $1,500 in four days, Mooketsi said he will keep at it while he can.