How the world sees us: Steyn City “highlights SA’s divided urban society”

One of the first Brazilian economists to earn a doctorate from a US university, Yale-educated Edmar Bacha, is deeply respected in his homeland. Among his contributions was in the 1970s when he helped explain challenges faced by Brazil by likening his country to a mythical state of “Belindia” – the merger between a small, highly developed First World country like Belguim and the poor, underdeveloped mass-populated nation of India. The best approach, he explained, was for the Belgian side to be nurtured and supported so benefits from its growth could be channeled to accelerate development of the Indian part. It’s a bit like the story of the goose which laid golden eggs. Looking after the goose provided a gift that kept giving, But the unfortunates who killed it found no gold inside, just a one-off meal of roast duck. South Africa’s unfortunate history created its own “Belindia”. Sustaining the Belgian part requires a generosity of spirit that was universal during Nelson Mandela’s Administration, but is now being progressively eroded by self-serving “entrepreneurial politicians”. Douw Steyn, who made most of his fortune via his UK-based direct insurance business, is betting on “Belindia” flourishing. With over R5bn already invested in his Steyn City, a quiet, securely walled enclave close to the poverty of the Diepsloot informal settlement, the stakes are high. Not only for Steyn himself. – Alec Hogg      

Green, tidy, with safe public areas and winding bicycle paths — Steyn City is a vast “self-sufficient” development outside Johannesburg, that highlights growing controversy over South Africa’s divided urban society.

The 800-hectare (2,000-acre) site, surrounded by high walls, is being marketed as a luxury, car-free settlement that will provide everything from a hospital to golf courses, shopping malls and offices.

Source: DBM Architects

“Enough amenities to declare independence,” is the unabashed official slogan for Steyn City, where about 250 of the 10,000 planned homes have been completed.

The slogan only fuels accusations that wealthy South Africans are retreating into ever-larger “gated communities” to escape the country’s dire security and poverty problems.

But Steyn City’s developers say that it will cater for many ordinary middle-class families of all races, and could become a flagship for future new cities in Africa.

Symbolising the estate’s upmarket brand is founder Douw Steyn’s imposing hilltop house, which boasts waterfalls, terraced gardens and panoramic views over the site.

Read also: UPDATED WITH NEW PICS: Douw’s R250mn Palazzo Steyn reflects confidence in SA

“Mr Steyn told me to build best city in the world,” Giuseppe Plumari, the Italian-born CEO of the project, told AFP during a tour, describing it as a place “to live, work and play”.

“Cars are the enemy today. Running routes, boardwalks, horse riding trails, cycling trails, outdoor gyms, climbing walls, fishing ponds — you name it, we’ve got it,” he said.

“And we make it accessible to everyone, because we’ve got apartments, starting with only one bedroom, up to Mr Steyn’s mansion — the ultimate home.

“We give access to this magnificent estate development to all, not just the rich few.”

The cheapest apartments will be rented for about $1,000 a month.

“Very accessible if you have a decent job,” said Plumari.

Stark contrasts

Raymond Mathlaba, a gardener at Steyn City, might disagree.

He earns $200 a month, and lives just a few kilometres (miles) away in Diepsloot, one of Johannesburg‘s most troubled and poverty-stricken shantytowns.

“Working at Steyn City is a good thing for me, but I feel very sad when I come back home,” he told AFP in front of the small tin shack he shares with his brother.

“I look at the people staying there in their houses, and then I see where I stay here, which is a very dangerous place.”

Diepsloot, which is easily visible from the Steyn City, is home to 250,000 people, many of whom have no power, water or access to schools or medical care.

Twenty years after the end of apartheid, townships such as Diepsloot have seen little of the supposed benefits of the new South Africa, with the country’s fragile economy failing to tackle rampant unemployment.

“I hope this new city will help Diepsloot people to get jobs,” said Joseph Molokome, an unemployed man.

“Here we’re waiting for houses from the government.”

Steyn City’s developers say they have already created jobs for 12,000 people.

Among them is Diepsloot resident Franklin Jacobs, head of a cleaning team.

“It’s a world of opportunity. Most of my friends and cousins have been employed there,” he said.

“Since I’ve become a permanent worker I’ve built my mum new rooms (on her shack).”

With $460 million already invested in Steyn City, the cranes are working at full pace to complete the next stage of construction.

If all goes to plan, children will soon play outside, and pedestrians and cyclists will rule the tranquil roads — rare scenes in South Africa’s suburbs where electrical security fences and CCTV cameras are the norm.

“For me, this is a beautiful environment,” said Cindy Rawlings, an estate agent who is building her own French-style house in Steyn City.

“There’s lots of trees, there is the safety aspect of it, the fact that I can just go down the road, and my shopping centre is right by me.

“I suppose living here, you don’t feel like you’re in Johannesburg.”

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