Once Chancellor House contained the buzzing legal practice of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. Then it became a heritage site — but the space sits empty. The street outside is lined with rubbish and the stench of urine pervades the surrounding area.

Last week, a small group of concerned Joburg inner-city firms decided to act. They took it on themselves to wash the windows — which had become filthy from years of neglect — to do what little they could to improve the state of this important building. It might seem a small act, but it speaks to the importance of having a civil society that cares. It is also an indication that authorities don’t...

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