Portions of the barren riverbank of the Vaal River, south of Gauteng, are in for grand development plans over the next 15 years.
The greenfield site along the Vaal River will soon see a new multi-billion city start to unfold at the end of the year – reviving the economic and industrial activity of the area.
Vaal River City is a mixed-use development which is one of the five new corridors identified by the Gauteng Provincial Government, which is set to create new economic nodes, cities and industries.
The planned city in Gauteng’s Southern Corridor – which is made up of the Sedibeng district – is earmarked to revive the area’s once thriving steel industry which collapsed about two decades ago.
It is dubbed South Africa’s “first post-apartheid city”, a private-public partnership with an estimated construction cost of R4 billion but on completion the valuation will balloon to R11 billion, according to Kukama’s estimates. The proposed development, which was unveiled to the media on Friday, resides in a 250-hectare piece of land, spanning the upper end of Vanderbijlpark, Sharpeville and Emfuleni City through to Sasolburg and the Vaal.
Sedibeng has lacked proper investments, resulting in poor infrastructure and lack of proper job opportunities. On a social level, the dearth of facilities has led to residents travelling far to work, retail and healthcare amenities.
See the planned development below:
Source: The Vaal River City Development Company
A new city born
Over the past ten years, gated and exclusive mixed-used developments have mushroomed catering largely to well-heeled individuals, but Vaal River City’s mandate is to be affordable and accessible to surrounding communities. It has been in the making since 2008 when developer Reggie Kukama had a vision to create a city that all individuals had access to.
“I wanted to break the mentality where there are certain things that don’t belong to you, but it is for someone. I bet you 90% of people at Sharpeville have never been to the Vaal River. When are people in this country going to enjoy these things?” Kukama asks.
Portions of the Vaal River are privatised, but the appeal of having a potential city with a 6km riverfront expanse made the investment case for the development strong. Also, the site is anchored by well-established road infrastructure such as the R15 into Johannesburg and two bridges across the river to Sasolburg, Vanderbijlpark and other townships – meaning there would be less capital invested in upgrading surrounding road infrastructure.
Kukama, who has been in the built environment for 18 years approached government to plug in his vision, which he says was an easy sell, given that it was in line with government’s focus on mixed-income and high-density human settlements.
“All we need to do was bring our fresh ideas to develop the site,” he says.
The government usually favours projects which have a potential for job creation – and Vaal River City is eyeing ambitious employment figures. “There will be 10 000 job opportunities during construction and a further 19 000 people will be employed after construction across the development’s components,” says Kukama.
The land for the development belonged to seasoned developer Giuseppe Plumari who owned it for about 20 years. The land was non-core to Plumari and he sold it to The Vaal River City Development Company, a black economic empowerment consortium headed by Kukama. Plumari, who has a 30% shareholding in the development, is also involved with insurance baron Douw Steyn in the mega-mixed use development Steyn City, sandwiched between Dainfern and Diepsloot.
The development’s features
The master plan of the development promises many features. It will boast 400 000 square metres of commercial office space, with various municipalities making an intention to set up offices in Vaal River City. The Emfuleni and Midvaal local municipalities will consolidate with the Sedibeng district municipality to establish a single metropolitan municipality. A court of law and various government departments will set up at the new city.
The development will also have a 60 000 square metre regional shopping centre and a healthcare facility. Commercial and retail space will make up 75% to 80% of the Vaal River City development.
Furthermore, four-storey apartment buildings with 5 000 units will be on offer. Howard Rawlings, who is involved in the town planning process of the development, says developers can buy land at the site and turn it into residential space. The apartments, Rawlings says, will largely fall into the category of affordable units – valued at R400 000 to R800 000.
The government might also get into the residential act through leasing units, in a bid to address South Africa’s housing backlog. It is expected that 60% of people who reside in the development will be from the Vaal.
The Vaal University of Technology is a stone’s throw away from the planned city which also presents opportunities for student accommodation within the development, says Kukama.
Kukama says the vision for Vaal River City is for it to be as pedestrian friendly as possible, as it will have a 20-hectare bird sanctuary and parklands with walkways and picnic spots.
As part of the development’s sustainability agenda, buildings at Vaal River City will have environmentally friendly features. They will be designed to incorporate energy efficient heating and cooling, lighting, water saving systems, designs allowing for the use of natural lighting and recycled construction materials, says Nishal Mistry of DBM Architects.
“Those are the conscious initiatives that we will put in and obviously the rest become determined by budget. The intention is to go as green as possible and get some of the buildings green star rated in the long term,” Mistry explains.
For now, the priority for developers is luring more partners to invest in making Vaal River City possible. Kukama says the phases of the development are fluid, as he foresees up to five phases; the first focusing on road infrastructure to the tune of R2 billion.
Part of the road infrastructure spend will be dedicated to make way for public transport access, as Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit System stops will be dotted across the city, together with taxi ranks. Cycle lanes are also in the pipeline. Another pressing issue facing the developers is dealing with sewerage at the site, as it is “the biggest issue to address in the area.”
Projects of this nature are capital intensive and a return on investment might take a while to materialise. At this point, key players behind the development are cautious about targets. “My view on property is we never look at short term returns, everything we do is on a long term basis,” Plumari says.