May 27, 2013:
Douw Steyn, one of South Africa’s most flamboyant tycoons, is set to launch his own “private city” next year, the biggest development to hit Johannesburg in years.
Douw Steyn Auto and General InsurancePlans for the development known as Mr Steyn City, which will cost a whopping R6bn even before the first homes are built, are being kept under wraps.
The development — which will squat neatly between the affluent Dainfern and the poverty-stricken township of Diepsloot in northern Johannesburg — was planned in 2008.
Mr Steyn, who owns the ultra-luxurious Saxon hotel in Johannesburg and started Auto & General insurance, moved to the UK in 1992 to start insurance group Budget.
He has since become the 158th-richest person in Britain with a personal wealth north of R8bn.
Steyn City will be his biggest investment in South Africa.
From the outside, the Steyn City site looks like the local version of the Great Wall of China, with brick walls curving around the sprawling 900ha development under signs advertising "1,000 acres of Woodlands — just one of the reasons you will breathe easy".
Mr Steyn's estate will be nearly five times the size of Monaco, the world's second-smallest country after the Vatican.
A top developer said 900ha was bigger than Sandton and certainly dwarfed Cape Town's Victoria & Alfred Waterfront at about 35ha.
Dainfern is set on 302ha on the Jukskei River and has 1,200 homes.
A manicured estate, it will offer a "crime-free, grime-free" option mainly for the rich with shopping centres, office parks, medical facilities, two private schools and a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus.
A wooded parkland will account for half the estate, and about 11,000 residential units will be built around that.
There will be a 70km track for off-road cycling on the estate and a 42km route for runners.
Though Business Times snuck into the development this month, those involved in building there are bound by watertight confidentiality agreements gagging them from discussing the project.
The site is cordoned off as an army of developers builds bridges, roads and a city centre.
The land was bought by Giuseppe Plumari, the CEO of Steyn City Properties.
It was earmarked for industrial development, which prompted Mr Steyn to buy the remaining tracts, making up the site today, and build a city.
When contacted, Mr Plumari said the idea of the "lifestyle estate" was that Steyn City would be "built and designed for people", rather than vehicles.
"One of the biggest barriers to our lifestyles of old, where children grew up playing on suburban streets, is the motor vehicle.
"Steyn City's network of pedestrianised pathways and cycle tracks will thread their way through the estate, linking all residential dwellings with the numerous parks and dense woodland," said Mr Plumari.
At the heart of it 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.
When Business Times visited, the house appeared almost complete, flanked by a fountain which works.
Though Mr Steyn is fabulously wealthy, it's not clear where the R6bn will come from, but there are private funders.
One property developer not involved in the estate said the funders could expect to make a healthy investment return — especially if the funding came from big life companies like Liberty and Old Mutual, rather than the banks, as their cost of capital is lower.
But he said Mr Steyn could also be financing the development with dividends he gets from his companies.
"For a normal developer to fund this is almost impossible. But because of the companies he controls, he's got a very good cost of capital," he said.
Mr Steyn must have a huge database of potential buyers through various businesses.