South Africa’s First Smart City Forges Ahead

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HONG Kong-listed Shanghai Zendai is going ahead with its grandiose plans to build a colossal mixed-use city in the sleepy village of Modderfontein, northeast of Johannesburg, despite talk that China’s economic slowdown could potentially derail Chinese infrastructure projects in Africa.

China overtook the US in 2009 to become Africa’s single largest trading partner. Over the past decade, Chinese companies have invested billions in infrastructure and property development projects across the continent — from roads, rail lines and power plants to schools, shopping malls and housing developments.

FNB property strategist John Loos says given the extent of China’s trade with Africa, the continent won’t be insulated from the global commodity price slowdown and drop-off in Chinese consumption.

However, Anthony Diepenbroek, the man driving the multibillion-rand project on behalf of Zendai, says China’s slowdown won’t hamper the 15-20-year rollout of Modderfontein New City.

The Chinese developer bought 1 600ha of undeveloped land from chemicals and explosives group AECI in 2013 in a deal worth a whopping R1bn. Back then, Zendai proposed ambitious plans to turn Modderfontein into the “New York of Africa”.

Some believed the deal between Zendai and AECI would never come to fruition. But Zendai has defied the sceptics. Last month, the company took transfer of the final parcel of land it bought from AECI.

Diepenbroek says Zendai has to date invested an additional R400m in road, electricity and other infrastructure. “Zendai has already invested R1.4bn and remains fully committed to the project.”

He believes China’s current economic and stock market hiccups are likely to be short-term and won’t affect the country’s long-term investment plans for Africa.

Diepenbroek is well-known in local property circles. He was head of AECI’s property development arm, Heartland, prior to his appointment as CEO of Zendai Development SA. He is also an ex-CEO of former JSE-listed iFour Properties.

Modderfontien New City will rival JSE-listed Attacq’s 340ha Waterfall City development under construction north of Johannesburg near Kyalami.

Waterfall City is SA’s largest mixed use development to date and is expected to close the gap between Sandton and Midrand within the next 10 years. Waterfall City will eventually comprise a total 1,753m m² of office, industrial, retail, hospital and hotel space.

Zendai plans to develop the 1 600ha of undeveloped land it acquired from AECI, located between Sandton and OR Tambo International Airport, into a 13mm² mixed-use hub of which the bulk comprises residential rights.

The area will also have a large educational precinct, hospitals, shops, offices and warehouses. Construction on infrastructure development at Modderfontein New City has already commenced.

The latter includes the extension of Marlboro Drive on the western border of the precinct and Centenary Road which offers alternative access to Modderfontein via the London Road off-ramp.

Township services have also been provided for a new eco-estate that is being developed behind Westlake as well as a 300-unit sectional title gated complex overlooking Flamingo Dam, which is scheduled for release within the next few weeks.

Diepenbroek says Zendai last month signed an agreement with JSE-listed AdvTech to build a Founders Hill College in Modderfontein.

The precinct is also likely to be home to the Gautrain’s next proposed station, which is positioned on the OR Tambo Sandton line. Zendai, in partnership with the Gautrain Management Agency, recently commenced with the design of the Modderfontein Gautrain station. Says Diepenbroek: “We are working towards agreement in order to allow for the station to be up and running by end-2018 or early 2019.”

Around 50ha of a total 180ha land parcel behind Linbro Park, known as Long Lake, will be launched for residential, retail and warehouse developments within the next six months. But Diepenbroek stresses that the rollout of Modderfontein New City will be “demand-led”.

The precinct’s master plan is aligned with the City of Johannesburg’s new spatial development strategy dubbed “corridors of freedom”, which aims to link public transport arteries to high-density, mixed-use nodes.

Diepenbroek says the rapid growth of the SA’s middle class demands a new, integrated approach to urban development. He believes high-density, purpose-designed “smart” cities along major spines will become an imperative as it is the only affordable way to house a growing urban population.

“Modderfontien New City will be a 24-hour district where people live and interact in an attractive urban environment that offers conveniet commuting to work, is in close proximity to educational, health-care and recreational facilities, and provides access to well-appointed apartment living.”

The development is expected to eventually house 100 000 people and have a completed value exceeding R84bn.

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