I Will Not Grow Old Here: The Air We Breathe

Original Air Date




In episode two of three, Mary-Ann steps out of her comfort zone to explore parts of Alex she's been warned about her whole life. Her search for answers leads her to places where past and present overlap. How will she find her way out of Alex when the legacy of apartheid lingers, practically in the air she breathes? Meanwhile, things in Mary-Ann’s personal life take a turn for the worse.


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Mary-Ann (scene): OK, today’s the 1st of June 2022. I’m at Heritage Museum in Alexandra. This place is actually opposite where Nelson Mandela stayed. So I’m guessing that’s the house he stayed in…

Mary-Ann (narration): Hi. Mary-Ann Nobele here with part two of I Will Not Grow Old Here. As you know, I live in Alexandra Township, a place I love but I also can’t wait to leave. Yes. Both things are true. I live with my family on Lion Crescent. Actually, it’s been renamed for another lion. Japie Vilankulu – a famous protest leader in South Africa’s youth uprisings of 1976.

Mary-Ann (scene): Whenever you talk about apartheid and history, it’s always Soweto, but a lot of people don’t acknowledge Alexandra for its history and what happened to it during apartheid and why it’s like this…

Mary-Ann (narration): I’m visiting the Alexandra Heritage Centre because I want to get a better sense of the history young people, like me, contend with – especially the 70% who are unemployed.  And I also heard there’s a black and white picture of Japie here. The last picture ever taken of him. He was 23. Like me.

Mary-Ann (scene): I’m gonna give you a little tour. On entry there are these like screens…

Mary-Ann (narration): The museum should be packed with visitors but they have slowly stopped coming. Museum staff, they told me people were getting mugged and harassed outside on the streets. So, today I’m the only one here. It’s not what I expected. But like, OK.  Nobody will look at me like I’m crazy for talking to myself.

Mary-Ann (scene): It says, “Alex, where our human spirit triumphs.” It says, “Our lives in Alex have always been very challenging, but our human spirit has triumphed again and again. During our oppressive past, Alex was one of the few urban areas…”

Mary-Ann (narration): I love all the big beautiful murals in here. The ones celebrating life and our fight for freedom and how creative people from Alex are. I stand on the shoulders of so many. But there’s a dark history here, too. It’s all around us in Alex, practically in the air we breathe.

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