JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African shoppers flocked to the opening Thursday of one of Africa's largest malls outside Johannesburg, despite rising unemployment is rising and slowing economic growth.
The Mall of Africa, spanning 130,000 square meters (140,000 square feet) registered 68,000 visitors by 1 p.m. local time, a spokesman for the mall's owners told The Associated Press.
"We did expect a high number but this has exceeded our expectations," said Michael Clampett of the Attacq group the majority owner of the mall. "It's the kind of number you get on December 23. ... I am fairly confident we will cross 100,000."
Before the opening of stores at 9 a.m. lines of people, some stretching for more than a hundred meters (yards), waited outside of international stores that recently launched in South Africa, such as fashion retailer H&M, Starbucks and doughnut shop Krispy Kreme.
The mall, which caters for a luxury as a well as a low-end market, had to block overcrowded escalators as massive crowds built up outside retailers offering opening specials on everything from televisions to bulk packs of toilet paper.
The mall, which developers say will be the largest in Africa once it is completed, opens as the country's economic prospects look bleak. Unemployment has increased from 22 percent in 1994 to 25 percent at the end of 2014 with approximately 5 million estimated to be jobless, according to the state Statistics South Africa.
The country's gold and platinum mines have been retrenching tens of thousands of workers in the past year after a fall in demand for commodities from China, while an El Nino drought has decimated agricultural production, forcing food prices to go up. South Africa's economic growth is expected to slow to a 0.5 percent this year, according to ratings agency Moody's.