By Pierre Donadieu*
Steyn City (South Africa) (AFP) – 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.
“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.
“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 ($920) a month.
Stark contrasts –
“Very accessible if you have a decent job,” said Plumari.
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.”