Johannesburg inner-city gets new lifeline


The Maboneng precinct is one of the inner-city neighbourhoods that has been turned into a thriving retail, entertainment and cultural space.

“Maboneng is something unique. It’s really an urban neighbourhood on the East side of Joburg CBD. It’s about a kilometre south of Ellis Park, and in that neighbourhood we bought 35 buildings within walking distance of each other and we’re trying to create a new alternative space for young people to live and work,” Maboneng precinct founder Jonathan Liebmann told CNBC Africa on Monday.

Growing interest in the redevelopment of the area has also prompted Citiq Corporate, a property investment business, to create a thriving residential market.

 “We have nearly 5000 apartments that we own and manage. We’re involved in the regeneration of areas like Newtown and Johannesburg inner-city like Hillbrow and Berea. We really see great potential in what’s happening in Johannesburg right now,” said Citiq Corporate CEO Paul Lapham.

For years, buildings and residential areas in the East of Johannesburg have been abandoned and remained poorly maintained due to the region’s derelict surroundings. It has nonetheless remained a thriving creative and urban environment.

“The authenticity and the character that you find in the inner city is something that you can’t really find in these new suburban developments that are happening in the rest of Johannesburg,” said Liebmann.

“I think that the inner city, fundamentally speaking, is very undervalued. It’s the core of Johannesburg and it makes sense that people will move back there over time, as has happened all over the world in any major city centre.”

Despite the significant infrastructure deficit and high number of abandoned buildings, Citiq Corporate has utilised some of the area’s oldest structures, such as the Newtown grain silos, and turned them into stylish and affordable student apartments.

“People who owned the silos before us had the plan of turning them into residential apartments. 2008 came, the financial crisis, their plans all came to nothing and they were sitting with these silos for another four to five years with nothing happening to them,” Lapham explained.

“We thought we’d step in and take over that project. After a couple of months of looking at the plans and the designs and the location –Newtown is very close to Wits and UJ –we said student accommodation.”

The repurposing the silos cost 33 million rand, or 7,444 rand per square metre. The Maboneng precinct has also used shipping containers to house a number of shops in the area.

“For any neighbourhood to become sustainable it needs to be diverse and it needs to offer retail spaces so that people have somewhere to eat and shop, it needs residential space, office space. We think that a mixed youth approach is a much more sustainable approach,” said Liebmann.