There’s a new kind of city in town
There’s a new type of city development in South Africa. Think typical gated community, but six times the size of Sandton. Think tree-lined walking trails, perfectly manicured bike trails and car-free zones. Think private rivers, playgrounds and schools, night jogs under the watchful eye of 24-hour camera surveillance. Think children playing freely in the streets. Think nearby shopping malls and restaurants, clubhouses and sports facilities within walking distance of your front door. Think never having to see poverty as long as you don’t step out into the real South Africa. It kind of sounds good until it kind of sounds problematic.
That’s the feeling the idea of private cities leaves me with, a sentiment not shared by the many people buying up properties at Steyn City between Sandton and Diepkloof, Waterfall City near Kyalami and the R84 billion smart city being developed by Chinese company Shanghai Zendai in Modderfontein, northeast of Johannesburg.
Steyn City, which was “blessed” by Nelson Mandela in 2007 and inaugurated by his widow, Graça Machel, in 2015, boasts the country’s most expensive house. The palatial R250 million property of the insurance mogul and visionary behind it all, Douw Steyn, is aptly named Steyn Palazzo. It’s so extravagant, the only thing it’s missing is a moat – though it does have its own aqueduct. The other few hundred residences on the 2 000-acre property start
JUST ADD MOAT at R1.65 million for a standard one-bedroom apartment, up to R50 million for complete free-standing homes on some of the prime spots, such as on the riverfront.
A lot of these superestates have similar features, where the idea is for residents to live, work and play, uninterrupted by the realities of say, Diepkloof, on the doorsteps of Steyn City, where some of the workers who have built the city live and a lot of the domestic workers will presumably come from. Isn’t this the type of setup that divides communities, breeds resentment and invites crime? So why does it seem like the future of urban living?
It is estimated that, by 2020, Joburg will have six private cities, joining India and Nigeria, where the demand for private oases in seas of inequality is high.
Federica Duca, an Italian PhD student who studies gated communities, says: “Many of the people who live in these gated communities want to feel they are part of the new South Africa while also feeling protected from it. For these people, the gated estate is a way of exiting the city in order to re-enter the country.”
Would I live in one? I’d love to live in a place where I could feel safe and carefree, especially at night. But I don’t know if the sleep would go down well, knowing the realities of the place I was escaping.
Douw Steyn’s home, Steyn Palazzo, in Steyn City