Township mall owner shares the grave detail – Jason McCormick on coming back stronger

The McCormick family are well known property moguls in South Africa. Their property portfolio consists of listed and unlisted assets, mainly malls and shopping centres around the rural and township areas of South Africa. It’s listed assets are held through a real-estate investment trust called Exemplar, which is an illiquid counter with a market capitalisation of approximately R3bn. It is controlled by the family. Jason McCormick, chief executive of Exemplar, joined Alec Hogg on the BizNews Power Hour to tell an extremely sombre tale. A number of the McCormick’s properties have been looted, vandalised and all but destroyed. The fight isn’t over, he says, as the family will look to rebuild and come back stronger as the communities in which they operate depend on it. – Justin Rowe-Roberts

Jason McCormick on the McCormick property portfolio: 

We’ve been at it for 39 years since next March as McCormick property development, always focused on the rural areas, particularly the homelands. My dad was the first guy to really focus on them. He did what we believe was the first broad-based BEE scheme in 1987. We’ve always been focused on the homelands because in the early days the townships were too hot to develop. We’ve now been focused on the townships since they became more peaceful and we find ourselves here today.

On Exemplar REITail, a JSE-listed company controlled by the McCormick family:

We listed a portfolio of 20 properties in June 2018. The majority of the developments are still done through the unlisted entity although we have started with our first two developments in Exemplar itself.

On how many shopping centres are within the broader McCormick stable:

In terms of developed over time, there are 68. 23 are owned by Exemplar and outside the fund we have a couple that aren’t in the fund for various reasons. In terms of Exemplar, it’s 23 currently.

On the chaos that has unravelled over the past week:

South Africa has been turned on its head, if I have to be honest. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what has happened. The onslaught that we’ve faced, what we believe to be ex-military, its a coordinated attack with serious armaments across the portfolio, I’m speaking to you now with maybe a couple of hours of sleep over the past few days. It’s been a hell of an experience, something we never expected to happen. Where we currently stand and why I’m happy to speak to you is that things are now a lot more under control. I wasn’t confident to speak to anymore until we knew exactly what was going on.

On the ground at the moment, things are a lot more calm. We still have a big threat at our flagship mall in Tembisa which we opened in 2020 under the pandemic. We are still facing a big threat there. Otherwise things have seemed to calm down, I feel the tide has turned. In terms of Exemplar, we have had 5 malls that have been damaged to varying degrees.

On how the rural area properties have fared: 

I love the rural areas. I absolutely love the people and developing them because that’s where you make the biggest difference because people aren’t having to spend a R100 on a round-trip to town. The rural areas have been amazing, they have formed human chains, they have protected us in these areas. They haven’t allowed themselves to get caught up in all of this. The bulk of our assets still remain in these areas.

On whether the McCormick family will be reinvesting or pulling out:

I’m an African. I believe that the project that we’ve got changes lives. The reason we’re driven to do what we do is we fundamentally change people’s lives where we operate.

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