There’s a new kind of city in town

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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

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