Outside the magic kingdom

“All of those familiar with the 2013 movie, Elysium, the striking Marxist under- and overtones highlight what is commonly known as revolution. Besides rampant EFF rantings, South Africa seems nowhere near such a devastating fate, though the growing class differences leaves the cynic wondering.” 


I have just finished reading a distressing article on rape in Diepsloot Township north of Johannesburg, by Mia Malan:


Perhaps just as disturbing is the fact that a new, purpose-built luxury suburb has been established right alongside Diepsloot:


If ever there was a concrete example of The Gini coefficient the gross and crass disparity between the “have’s” and “have-nots”, this is surely it’s shining example.

Business Day reported:

“At the heart of (Steyn City) lies Palazzo Steyn – a private residence for Mr Steyn, which is rumoured to have cost more than R150m… It has been reported that Mr Steyn’s house has a garage for 33 cars, a wine cellar, seven bedroom suites, and is situated above a man-made lake.”

The Two Oceans Vibe article continues:

At 900 hectares, Mr Steyn City will be roughly three times the size of Dainfern estate. Development will cost a jaw-dropping R6 billion before construction on residences has started. According to designs, a wooded parkland will account for half the estate, with roughly 11,000 residential units built around it.

“Apart from a private hospital, two private schools, and multiple office parks, the estate will sport a 70km track for off-road cycling, and a 42km route for runners.”

(Read more at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diepsloot)

Contrast the above description of Steyn City with this about Diepsloot:

“Diepsloot is now home to about 150,000 people; many of them live in shacks 3m by 2m assembled from scrap metal, wood, plastic and cardboard. Some families lack access to basic services such as running water, sewage and rubbish removal.”

Is it just me who senses an obscene juxtaposition of opposites here? Just across from this extravagant, faux-paradise, over the very, very high walls bristling with cameras and electric fencing, is a settlement characterized by conspicuous poverty. And this state of affairs is ubiquitous in South Africa: there is a proliferation of walled, exclusive Elysiums: equestrian estates, golf estates, wine estates, game farm estates … bastions of luxury, safety and security raised against the danger and chaos of broader society. Reading between the lines and stripping away the euphemisms which obscure our motives, one may hazard a guess that there will be a lot of white South Africans retreating behind Mr Steyn’s high walls, if only because the demographics of South Africa is still so indelibly connected to income. Certainly the black middle-class is expanding, but I cannot help guessing that these walled enclaves maintain a residual racially skewed demographic. But in a society as violent and structurally misshapen as ours, who could blame the monied classes for retreating into secure havens? isn’t this what the walled cities of Europe sought to achieve? Not exactly: our luxury ghettos are established to exclude our fellow citizens, not the Infidel, foreign invaders from distant lands. The walls raised in South Africa are raised against eachother, for the safety and luxury of an elite class. All such walls must face the danger the inhabitants of Elysium faced. Walls and security cameras and guards will not create social cohesion, and without that, safety within our enclaves is simply one more fantasy of the magic kingdom.

As I explore my disquiet, I question whether we South Africans are just too habituated to profound inequality to care about such contradictions. I discovered that I am certainly not alone in sensing something is amiss: there has been criticism of Mr Steyn’s somewhat megalomaniacal project:


Inevitably money – especially white billionaire capital – can be very persuasive, and with the late President Nelson Mandela’s apparent blessing upon the Steyn City project, I guess disgust voiced will be disgust ignored.

“These developments just cater for high-income category individuals [and] they do tend to create isolated places of residence.. It is going counter to the kind of character we’re trying to establish and the kind of city we’re trying to establish.”




In the Russian republic of Tatarstan there is a bizarre, purpose-built mini city called Innopolis. It too is a magic-kingdom: a surreal, soulless place. The utopian dream-city is an old idea of course. In England, “Welwyn Garden City was founded by Sir Ebenezer Howard in the 1920s following his previous experiment in Letchworth Garden City. Howard had called for the creation of planned towns that were to combine the benefits of the city and the countryside and to avoid the disadvantages of both.” (Wikipedia). Note the philanthropic tone of Howard’s vision.

There are many peculiar manifestations of the “dream city”: the architectural sterility of Brasil’s Brasilia (which, incidentally, is serviced and maintained by dirt-poor workers in a shantytown outside Brasilia); the Tellytubby weirdness of Canberra, and the failed dream of Le Corbusier’s Banlieues all come to mind. But the fortified, exclusive and exclusionary walled suburb (or city) in the South African context has a peculiar perversity about it because of our historical, formalized disparity, social separation and exclusion. Apartheid after all meant separate development; one could argue that the New South Africa excludes people through an apartheid based on class and money – a no less damaging and heinous form of social violence and threat to social cohesion. There is much in the media and in academic discourse to support this view.

But it’s okay: there is a good-neighborliness extended from Steyn City to the people of Diepsloot. Shall we assume there is nothing patronizing or condescending about all this?

The Emissaries of Happiness: CSI

“Delivering Happiness to Diepsloot’ is a much anticipated annual Steyn City CSI project aimed at improving lives by ensuring that Primary School Learners receive an early Christmas gift. Over 9000 Primary School learners from seven different schools within the Diepsloot community received a backpack with goodies and stationery sponsored by Croxley.

“The day started at the Steyn City’s Equestria Center where all volunteers and sponsors gathered in preparation of delivering happiness. A convoy of  trucks and vans filled with the “Happiness Crew”  drove to Diepsloot, arriving to excited Learners who were singing songs of praise and thankfulness as they lined up to get they’re backpacks. Croxley representatives Sarah Sebetola (PR Co-ordinator) and Mojaki Finger (Commercial Director) were among the volunteers. Steyn City ambassador and Metro FM radio personality, Tbo-Touch, , Olympian Gold Medallist Roland Schoeman and 21 Icon and social entrepreneur Thato Kgatlhanye were among the celebrities that helped to hand out the backpacks.

“The Learners were very excited to receive the backpacks while posing with the celebrities. Just when they though the give-aways were finished, Father Christmas with the help of the Happiness Crew handed out packets of candy adding to the cheer and excitement.”



An important book:

DIEPSLOOT by Anton Harber


Fears that development will build a new apartheid in South Africa


Pricey insta-cities in Johannesburg offer oases for residents but not those who build them, by Ryan Lenora Brown





“Diepsloot, a vast expanse of more than 150,000 people living in corrugated steel shacks, is right next door. A holdover from the apartheid regime that forced blacks to live in designated areas far from urban centres, the contrast between Diepsloot and Steyn City is a jarring reminder that Nelson Mandela’s promise of equality for all is far from fruition.”


Corporate social investment

During the “Struggle Years” – both in South Africa and in what was essentially her colony -SWA-, the unpopular military incursions into the townships were deliberately and I believe cynically PR-managed by what was known as “Com-ops” or Communication Operations. It was the occupying force’s version of Mao’s “winning the hearts and minds of the people”. Soldiers would play soccer with the local kids, there were ameliorative events and hand-outs. The objective was to diminish the rejection of and hostility towards the military – and alien- presence. I don’t believe there is a one-to-one comparison With the Steyn City CSI initiative, but it’s hard not to see a similarly disguised intention. Why does it smack of those shameful colonial practices of giving a few cheap beads to ‘the natives’ in exchange for their land and their good will. We still here echos of this today: any condemnation of colonialism is inevitably met with the rejoinder, “but look at all the good the colonizers did for Africa! They built clinics, roads, railways…”

The difficulty created for a curmudgeon like me is that indeed there are benefits for the residents of Diepsloot. Every now and then, like the emissaries of a medieval palace, the royalty envoys emerge from their opulent, fortified enclave to bestow gifts and good will upon the poor and needy. Patronizing perhaps, but an essential PR strategy nonetheless.

The whole social responsibility aspect of the Steyn City project – as intended I believe – effectively disarms and disconcerts the cynic in his disavowal. How can you condemn Mr Steyn’s magical kingdom when he is doing such magical things for the children of Diepsloot?  Look how happy the children are! And what good have you, O curmudgeon, done for Diepsloot?

You can read more about these carefully orchestrated acts of philanthropic kindness at the Steyn City website: “Due to the enormous scope of the development, job creation and local community empowerment opportunities within the neighbouring greater Diepsloot region are key areas of focus for the developers.” (Do I detect a neo-feudal arrangement here, with the serfs working on the estate of the lord of the manor? How fortunate they are to build and maintain his palace, to gain entry to tend his manicured lawns!).

“(Diepsloot) witnessed Johannesburg’s largest Christmas gift drop ever as a helicopter and seven large trucks driven by Father Christmases descended on Diepsloot to give presents to the children, some of whom had never experiences (sic) a Christmas before. The event was covered by TV, radio and print, and gave journalists the opportunity of a lifetime – a helicopter flip to view the Christmas drop from the air and take aerial photographs.”

Manna from helicopters, so to speak.

I cannot fully explain my disquiet, but it persists. Like most white South Africans, if I don’t get over it, I’m sure I’ll nevertheless learn to live with it. Surrealism is our milieu.

My disquiet of course counts for nothing. You need to ask a Diepsloot resident with a gardening job in Steyn City whether he approves or not. Ask one of the children given a backpack full of Christmas goodies whether she is happy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s