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The African Manhattan

Modderfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa Modderfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa Shanghai Zendai
23 May
2015
Construction has begun on South Africa’s brand new £500million, 1,600-hectare city, but some are expressing fear over a growing ‘Chinese incursion’ into the region

Modderfontein, a small Johannesburg suburb has been chosen as the location for a brand new smart city, complete with educational district, a new train station for the city, and a theme park. Once completed, the city – dubbed the ‘African Manhattan’ by some commentators – will be home to 100,000 people.

‘South African lifestyles are changing,’ says Anthony Diepenbroek, CEO of Zendai Development South Africa, a branch of Shanghai Zendai, the Chinese construction firm behind the project. ‘Many households are facing challenges associated with urban sprawl. People wishing to own homes are finding that to afford a suitable home they are forced to live outside urban centres.’

The main downside to this commuting lifestyle is that numerous families are allocating an estimated 40 per cent of their monthly income to transport. ‘In some cases, this challenge restricts the dream of home ownership for many families,’ adds Diepenbroek.

Modderfontein will aim to serve South Africa’s middle class with a new approach to city development. Previous South African cities have created arteries along which people travel to existing urban centres from outlying areas. Modderfontein’s builders believe this system will not work in the long-term, and instead favour high-density spines as the only sustainable solution. According to Zendai, South Africa’s middle class is already the largest on the continent with around 8.3 million people.

Concerns have been raised by some about the increasing level of Asian – and particularly Chinese – investment into South Africa, with social media comments such as ‘We’re going to be a Chinese colony in a few years’ and calls to get infrastructure basics such as reliable healthcare and electricity supply in the country right first. However, the ‘smart city’ model is catching on and Lagos, Nairobi and Cape Town are also hoping to adapt similar schemes elsewhere in Africa.

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