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Soweto Theatre - a visionary public-private partnership

Wednesday, 04 July 2012

The opening of the first theatre in Soweto demonstrates the difference that considered public-private partnerships can make in the lives of South Africans.

Rob Wesselo, managing partner of International Housing Solutions, the global private equity investor which funded the development of the adjacent Jabulani affordable housing complex, says that through a set of complex exchanges and negotiations between the various stakeholders, the Soweto Theatre became part of the project and is now set to change the surrounding residents lives forever.

"Congratulations are due to The Johannesburg Property Company as well as the City of Joburg for their great foresight and determination to make this cultural hub a part of the future of the surrounding community, and of the greater Soweto and Joburg," says Wesselo.

He says although the will often existed, competing interests and red tape often had the potential to derail the best-laid plans. "However the entire Jabulani development and the surrounding amenities show what can be done when all concerned relentlessly work toward a common vision."

The joint venture vehicle between IHS, developer Calgro and Inkanyeli was responsible for purchasing the land - where the much-lauded suburb of Jabulani now stands - from the City of Johannesburg. As per agreement, the funds received by the city in exchange for the land, enabled it to cover a significant part of the construction costs of the theatre.

In addition to enabling the establishment of a centre of excellence in the heart of the community, the theatre has also boosted the suburb’s image in the local and international press.

Scarcely a week after opening, the Soweto Theatre clinched its first award, from the South African Property Owners Association. It received the social/environmental impact development prize, which recognises the positive impact a development has made on its surroundings. It was also highlighted extensively both locally and on international news networks such as the BBC.

"Government has shown laudable foresight in helping to create a vibrant city centre at Jabulani," says Wesselo. "The Jabulani community now not only has a theatre on their doorstep, but also a shopping centre and a hospital. This development is a prime example of what IHS looks at when choosing developer partners, and, we believe, what other investors should be looking at when considering where to allocate funds," says Wesselo.

He says that the development should serve as a model in an environment where the affordable housing sector is set to grow exponentially, and denser developments are set to become the norm. "While delivering good returns to investors, it is imperative that developers also understand the importance for the country and its people of creating sustainable communities that improve the quality of people’s lives.

"Housing should not be approached as mere shelter, but rather as an asset that generates wealth by increasing the property’s value. This not only makes sense for the purchaser, but also for the investor."

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