A VAST piece of arid land opposite a wetland in Rockville, Soweto, has been earmarked for a R1.2-billion development comprising offices, townhouses, flats and duplexes, a signature bridge over a Rea Vaya station and retail facilities.
Called Oasis in Soweto, properties on Khumalo Street, a stone’s throw from Regina Mundi Church, will also be upgraded as part of efforts. The development will take up a chunk of about 132 800 square metres of land, stretching from Moroka Police Station in the west right down to Klipvalley Road in the east.
It will encompass two diversified but functionally interdependent business entities, leisure facilities, accommodation, food and beverage outlets, entertainment and recreational facilities, conference and meeting facilities, a retail and office park, travel and tourism, a boutique hotel, a spa and a curio shop.
Oasis is a multi-pronged investment involving the City and property developers uThongathi, and anchors the mayoral committee’s five-year Soweto Economic Development Plan, a blueprint that envisages turning it into an economically vibrant region by 2013.
Soweto is a densely populated urban sprawl formed by the growth and coalescence of emerging towns and suburbs. As one of the bigger and fastest growing areas of Joburg, it is part of the “smart city” vision of an attractive place in which to invest, work, play, visit and live. This concept is entrenched in the municipality’s Growth and Development Strategy for the next three decades, Joburg 2040.
The City hopes Oasis will spearhead economic development in the area and solidify Soweto’s position for investment and as an ideal place to live and visit.
“The project is on-going,” explains Marina Mayer, Joburg’s executive director for economic development. “There are various projects of that type around the city and essentially we zone and provide bulk services and we then invite the private sector to invest. The Oasis project is pretty much done and dusted. We are just waiting for the construction to start; everything is in place.”
Mayer says the bulk of construction work will be “at an advanced stage” within the next 12 months.
The project has been endorsed by the mayoral committee, the Soweto Section 70 Development Committee, the Greater Soweto Business Forum, the provincial department of economic development and the Premier’s Office, and the Khumalo Street Home Owners Association.
It was conceptualised in 2003 and presented to the mayor and his team a year later. The Oasis proposal was shared with the Johannesburg Property Company in 2006 and the project was endorsed in 2008.
It will be administered by the property company, with the department of economic development serving as a strategic co-ordinator. The Johannesburg Property Company is a municipal-owned entity that manages council land and buildings. Its job is to create a return on investment and contribute to the City’s rates base.
A project similar to Oasis is on the cards for Lanseria in partnership with Mogale City and the provincial government. The area lies on the border between the neighbouring municipalities. The development is expected to be anchored by hotels, a conference centre, a research and development park, an agricultural hub, a shopping mall, an aerospace innovation and training hub, and a medical precinct. The airport runways will also be upgraded.
Mayer says the City is moving its focus away from small projects. “We are actually moving away from doing little projects in little places. We need to be massive in terms of the dent we make on the City’s economic development agenda.”
Although Oasis is “a big project” the amount invested and the number of people employed are axiomatically small. “It might be big for that area, but it is small for the City.”
“But that is not to say that it is not a good project. It is a very good project and I’m very glad we’ve done it,” Mayer says. “But it is the view of the mayoral committee and the City manager that our job is not to implement projects; our job is to facilitate projects.
“So we want bigger, bolder and more labour-intensive projects. It is in our business plan,” she adds.