Heritage Centre to catalyse tourism development in Alexandra

Heritage Centre to catalyse tourism development in AlexandraThe JDA is pushing to complete the Alex Heritage Centre building and precinct and activate an operational plan for the museum and small business hub.

The soon to be completed Alexandra Heritage Centre is poised to become a significant tourism destination in its own right, while catalysing the development of untapped tourism potential in Johannesburg's oldest township.

The project is expected to create tourism-related employmentBesides community enrichment, the project is expected to create tourism-related employment.Construction work on the Alexandra Heritage Centre restarted in 2014 after the stalled project was taken over by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA).

This followed a decision by the City of Johannesburg, taken at the time of Alexandra's centenary celebrations in 2012, to grow the township as a tourism destination, with the AHC and the nearby Mandela Yard earmarked as key attractions.

Construction work is currently well advanced at the Centre, which is scheduled to open in mid-2016.

With its striking architectural design, and versatile levels built to accommodate an interactive exhibition area along with spaces for community events, small business training, and shops for local crafters and traders, the Centre seeks to reflect the rich history of Alexandra and to feed off its unique energy.

The Centre is not separated from the community in which it is situated. The first floor exhibition space was designed both to represent the social unit of Alex, the yard, and to form an extension of the public space of Alex, the street. Large windows allow the visitor to become a participant in viewing and learning about the people of Alex from a pedestrian bridge over 7th Avenue.

The centre is on schedule to be complete in mid-2016The centre is on schedule to be complete in mid-2016.The Alex Heritage Centre will also be closely associated with the Mandela Yard, which is situated diagonally opposite across the intersection of 7th Avenue and Richard Baloyi Street. The Yard is being developed by the City in partnership with the national Department of Tourism, and will combine with the Centre to form a heritage precinct.

Once the Mandela Yard is completed, visitors to Alexandra will begin their heritage experience with a visit to the room where Nelson Mandela first resided in Johannesburg in 1942, after leaving Qunu as a young man.

Mandela's written descriptions of Alexandra, documented The Long Walk to Freedom, show his deep admiration and respect for the township and its community, one of very few urban black communities that managed both to grow on its own terms and to resist destruction by the apartheid authorities.

During a visit to his first Joburg abode in 2000, Mandela said: "Should you build a centre - tell the people's story - tell the story of the people of Alex, not just their struggle but their triumphs."

It is this spirit that the Alex Heritage Centre sought to capture, through the community engagement and local procurement and employment that went into its design and construction.

Going forward, the operational plan for the museum and small business hub, the content of upcoming exhibitions, and further community tourism development initiatives, will likewise seek to involve the people, and to ensure that the human stories of Alexandra are not lost.