Real Estate

Brought to you by China? ‘The New York of Africa’

Erin Conway-Smith
Aerial view of suburbs in Johannesburg, South Africa
Gallo Images | Getty Images

A Chinese property developer has a lofty vision for a pokey suburb of Johannesburg.

The plan? To turn Modderfontein, a dull, soulless area of semi-industrial sprawl, into the "New York of Africa," with a financial district, 10 hotels, 10 shopping centers and an African culture theme park.

Hong Kong-listed Shanghai Zendai Property on Tuesday announced it is buying a 1,600-hectare (3,953 acre) tract of land, and will make an investment of 80 billion rand, or $7.8 billion, over the next 15 years to develop the area.

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"It will become the future capital of the whole of Africa," chairman Dai Zhikong told a press conference on Tuesday, according to Bloomberg. "This will be on par with cities like New York in America or Hong Kong in the Far East."

Shanghai Zendai is buying the land from AECI, a South African explosives and chemical group. The area currently houses an explosives factory, which opened in 1896 in connection with Johannesburg's gold mining boom.

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The Chinese firm views the area as strategic, located some 5 miles east of Sandton, a retail and financial hub in northern Johannesburg, and around the same distance west of OR Tambo International Airport.

"Johannesburg is the political, economic and cultural center of South Africa, hence the property possesses enormous development potential," the company said in a statement.

According to the plans, this new African capital will include some 35,000 houses, a sports stadium and an educational center, and will create at least 20,000 jobs.

Shanghai Zendai said the development will also provide a base for Chinese companies looking to expand into Africa.

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Artists' impressions show futuristic, beehive-shaped buildings with pools and fountains set amid the veld.

The site also includes wetlands, which are to be protected, creating a sort of "Central Park." The development will be built in line with the Chinese philosophy of living in harmony in nature, the company said at the news conference.

Previous projects by Shanghai Zendai include hotels, offices and residential areas in a dozen Chinese cities including Shanghai, Nanjing and Qingdao, as well as a development underway in New Zealand, its first foray overseas.

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Perhaps in recognition that "Modderfontein" isn't exactly catchy, the company has asked South Africans to submit new name suggestions for the area.

Johannesburg, as the economic hub of South Africa, already bills itself as a "World Class African City," though this moniker was challenged earlier in the year.

South Africa's Advertising Standards Authority ruled the City of Johannesburg's claim in a radio commercial to be a world class African city was "misleading," and ordered the ad withdrawn.

Thabo Rangwaga, spokesman for Johannesburg's mayoral committee responsible for development planning and urban management, said he thought the idea of a "New York of Africa" referred to the kind of buildings the Chinese investors want to construct.

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Rangwaga said Johannesburg is currently focusing its development efforts on the downtown core.

"Johannesburg promotes investment in every part of the city," he added. "This is in line with our future city model — our growth and development model."