Spotlight on Soweto
Soweto is a city on the move. It has shed its Cinderella status and has become a highly sought-after residential area and investment hot spot.
The City of Johannesburg’s development plan for transforming Soweto from a neglected township into a business and residential centre is well under way, and the Baralink hub, Orlando Ekhaya, the Jabulani precinct and others are evidence of the billions of investment rands that have already been spent. The myriad improvements to road networks and transport infrastructure have made it easier for residents to get to work, and the many shopping centres and businesses that have sprung up are now providing jobs to Sowetans, close to their homes.
Soweto was already a South African icon and it fell to the visionaries at the City of Johannesburg to turn the sprawling township into a coherent regional economic hub. Home to 40 per cent of the city’s total population, Soweto’s potential for growth is still largely untapped. New residents are attracted to the vibrancy, with several exciting nodes providing a mix of entertainment and retail. The Jabulani precinct, which has been likened to Melrose Arch, is home to the innovative Soweto Theatre, for example.
People who moved out of Soweto after the dawn of the new dispensation are now moving back, says Mike Mangena, principal of Harcourts Unlimited in Soweto. ‘You don’t get the same kind of community spirit and ubuntu in the former white suburbs as you get here in Soweto.’
That is why previous residents of the township are returning home in their droves. Affordability also plays its part. Property prices in Soweto are rising by approximately 9,5 per cent in the popular areas of Soweto, compared with 6,8 per cent in the big metros. Mangena says the ‘little matchbox houses are largely a thing of the past’ and that property rates are substantially cheaper. He adds that he is part of an exciting new mayoral project that will put 30 000 new homes on the market as well as several shopping centres, eight schools and state-of-the-art recreational facilities.
Shawn Mackrell, master licensee at Seeff Johannesburg South, Alberton and Soweto, concurs: ‘Today Soweto has 37 suburbs and there are some truly remarkable property opportunities in many of them. In addition to this there is still a lot of opportunity for development, which means that property values in Soweto are continuously on the rise.’
Principals of the Seeff branch in Soweto, Thando Madimabe and Kage Kgiba, say the most prominent areas for investment include: Orlando West, owing to its proximity to many amenities, such as Orlando Stadium, Vilakazi Street and the Orlando Towers; Pimville, owing to its proximity to the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Soweto campus and Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital; and Jabulani and its many ongoing developments for purchase and for rent. They say that Protea Glen is the only area that has land available for new builds and that many developments are popping up.
Who’s buying and what are they paying?
Soweto has a population of more than 2 000 000. It might not have been a desirable address 15 years ago, but that has changed, says Mackrell. ‘Younger buyers favour the more of the upmarket suburbs like Diepkloof Extension 1 and Orlando West, where property can cost upwards of R1-million.’ The average entry-level price is between R350 000 for a two-bedroom, one-bathroom unit and R600 000 for a unit with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a carport.
Investors are clamouring to get into Pimville, Protea Glen and Diepkloof, says Lot Ncube of Chas Everitt International Property Group in Glenvista. He says he can’t keep up with the demand for investor units, which are rented out as accommodation to students on UJ’s Soweto campus. Luxury homes are to be found in Diepkloof and Diepkloof Extension for between R1,3-million and R2,7-million, but good value can be found around the R750 000 mark. The Jabulani precinct, frequented by young buyers who want to be near the vibey cultural area, offers mixed residential units, including affordable homes at prices around R450 000. Protea Glen is popular with families and couples who are planning their families, offering two- and three-bedroom freestanding homes for between R350 000 and R650 000.
Ncube says there is a massive demand for property in what he calls ‘Deep Soweto’. This includes the areas further away from the inner city, such as like Meadowlands and Dobsonville, which are more accessible now thanks to the upgrading of the transport infrastructure and systems.
‘I grew up in Soweto, and although I spent a lot of my youth at boarding school in Benoni, I came back here because I am at home in Soweto. My heart is in Soweto. I live in an old house in Meadowlands, which has been totally revamped. I love Soweto for its history, and now that the economy is growing it is the place to be if you want to make progress. Crime is everywhere, but in Soweto it is less prevalent because when you leave your home your neighbours keep an eye on your place. The street committees and councillors are also there to serve the community, which is why I don’t want to leave.’ – Dindiwe Sibiya, businessman, Meadowlands
Where to eat, drink and shop…
The Vilakazi Street precinct stretches for 1km and is packed with historical sites – including Mandela House and the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum – public art and various eateries. Nambitha is an upmarket restaurant that serves ‘soul food’. Thrive Café is a chic, modern cafe that serves steak, kingklip, roast chicken and burgers. Restaurant Vilakaziserves delicious buffets. There is much extreme-sports fun to be had at the Orlando Towers, while Maponya Mall is Soweto’s preeminent shopping centre.
‘I was born in Soweto and have worked here for 47 years. It is a unique place. There is so much history here. It is the only place in the world where two Nobel prizewinners – Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela – lived on the same street. Our democracy started in the streets of Soweto. Everyone in the world wants to come and watch soccer at our two iconic stadiums – the FNB Stadium and Dobsonville Stadium. In addition to that, we have seen four new malls opening in the past four months.’ – Benson Dubula, businessman, Soweto
- Mandela House: mandelahouse.co.za
- Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum: soweto.co.za
- Nambitha: nambitharestaurant.co.za
- Thrive Café: thrive.co.za
- Restaurant Vilakazi: restaurantvilakazi.co.za
- Orlando Towers: orlandotowers.co.za
- Maponya Mall: maponyamall.co.za
- Sakhumzi Restaurant: sakhumzi.co.za
Text: Andrea Vinassa
Photographs: Getty Images, Peter Hassall Photography, supplied