Coming soon: I Will Not Grow Old Here

Original Air Date



This story starts with a number: 70%. That's how many young people in South Africa are unemployed. Youth hustle and hope to find success, but how do you make it in a place like Alexandra township in Johannesburg? And how do you get out? In this three-part series, 23-year-old Mary-Ann Nobele brings listeners into her life in Alex and shows us why she's made this promise to herself: I will not grow old here.


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Maryann: Ok, so today is Friday the 15th. It’s Good Friday. I’m home, at my gran’s house. It’s been three mornings waking up to no electricity. Life’s been very ghetto. A lot’s happened, you! Like, I need to have a proper sit down and, like, a catch up session…


Maryann (narration): I’m not gonna lie, I need to get out of here. And by here, I mean Alex. Alexandra Township? In Johannesburg, South Africa… where I live.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the vibe in Alex. The music, the energy. I have my friends and family here. But, mostly, Alex, umm, it stresses me out.


Maryann: Ok, so today is Thursday. I’m leaving the house to go to work.

Maryann (narration): I work five jobs. Five. And still, I earn far less than the average white guy my age. But at least I’m not part of the 70%. The 70% of young people in Alex and across South Africa who are unemployed. Somedays, though, I feel like I’m not that far from joining them.

Maryann: Definitely a big car ‘cause I like Audi, I like Mercedes.

Maryann (narration): To remind me of my dreams, I keep a vision board.

Maryann: …and that I want to be rich one day, but not just rich, like dollars rich. I definitely look up to Trevor Noah, because he’s a South African somebody doing his thing…

Maryann (narration): Yeah. I’m pretty ambitious. Here’s another dream: When I’m ready to start a family, it definitely needs to be far from Alex.

I mean just the other day I was visiting our Heritage Center. Reading about our proud history. About Nelson Mandela and Hugh Masekela and Onica Mashego, and so many other influential people with ties to Alex.

And I looked outside the window. It was heartbreaking. Shacks on top of shacks. Corrugated tin roofs. People hustling just to survive. And, it’s been this way for over a hundred years. Have things improved? Yes. But come on. My friend Sthe once said, “Every time you take a breath, Alex gets worse.”

South African poet, Wally Serote, he put it this way:

Wally: The people here dream. They dream like any other person in the world. What we have to examine is why should they be dreaming in shacks?


Maryann (narration): My name is Maryann Nobele. I’m a reporter. And for the last six months, I’ve been documenting life as a 23-year-old trying to find her way out of Alex.

I’ve produced a 3-part podcast for the Radio Workshop. It’s called “I Will Not Grow Old Here.”

And believe me when I say, I will not grow old here.