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Soweto’s ice-cream truck veteran keeps generations smiling

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The owner of an ice-cream truck, Sipho Mtshali, prepares ice-cream cones for children in Soweto on November 19. AFP

Soweto’s ice-cream truck veteran keeps generations smiling

The melody of Sipho Mtshali’s ice-cream van has drawn hoards of Soweto children since South Africa’s violent apartheid years, running over for creamy soft servings. Decades later, it still is going.

He has worked “Monday to Monday” for the past 45 years, driving through the hilly township that was once home to South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela.

Even during the violent liberation struggle that rocked Soweto during the 1970s, he sold ice-cream.

Only the winter weather occasionally stops him.

“If it’s cold, you get the rest,” said Mtshali, a 63-year-old father born and raised in Soweto, where students once rose against white-minority rule in 1976.

But politics have never been his thing.

“I have seen people grow from the ice-cream car,” he said, remembering that prices were lower during apartheid, which officially ended in 1994.

Today he charges eight rand ($0.50) for a swirly serving of strawberry or vanilla.

Add a couple of rand for a sprinkle of hundreds-and-thousands or another crunchy topping.

Mtshali fondly recalls the round baby faces of his first customers, now adults, who today send their children to his van, coins in hand.

“They were young when we started,” he said, serving some people directly into their cars as they ride past.

Under a bright summer sun, Mtshali drives slowly past small identical brick and iron-roofed houses built for black labourers on the outskirts of Johannesburg during apartheid.

He has to cut the engine to switch on his Italian ice-cream machine.

“Can’t do both at the same time,” he muttered, blades churning in the background.

A small technical glitch that does not impact his passion for the smiles he brings.

“As long as I’m alive I’m gonna do it,” he said. “Everybody is happy with ice-cream.”

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