Township shopping centres grow

SHOPPING SPREE: Baramall is one of the new malls servicing Soweto. Pic. Elvis Ntombela. 24/05/2006. © Sunday World.
SHOPPING SPREE: Baramall is one of the new malls servicing Soweto. Pic. Elvis Ntombela. 24/05/2006. © Sunday World.

Thomas McLachlan

Thomas McLachlan

Experts are closely watching the current township shopping-centre boom, with some saying that oversupply might be a problem and that it might have negative effects on other business districts and smaller, informal traders.

"There has been growing interest in the township property market over the past five years, but the question at the moment is whether the demand is there," said Francois Viruly, a property economist.

He was speaking at an Institute for International Research conference on the township market held earlier this week.

Viruly said that the amount of available retail space in South Africa's largest township, Soweto, which was seeing the majority of retail activity, would quadruple once current projects were completed. He added that a potential problem was that shopping centres in townships would begin to encroach on each other's catchment areas and would have to fight for customers because of their close proximity to each other.

Soweto's Dobsonville Shopping Centre was the only mall servicing the entire township until last year, when the Protea Gardens Mall opened. This was followed by the Baramall earlier this year and then the Jabulani shopping complex, which opened last month.

The Maponya Mall is due to be completed next year.

Viruly said though the development of shopping centres in rural areas was uplifting the direct communities, limiting transport costs and creating jobs, it would begin to negatively affect the retail trade in existing central business districts (CBDs) such as Johannesburg's inner city.

But City of Johannesburg project consultant Lebo Ramoreboli did not feel that the city's trade would be affected, because many Sowetans still worked in the CBD and would purchase goods throughout the week.

She said more immediate challenges surrounding the retail boom were "creating jobs and converting informal retail trade into sustainable formal trade".

Viruly said that it was important to monitor the situation because Soweto would act as a model for similar developments in townships around the country.